- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Senate Democrats are united in opposing President Bush's tax-cut package, but they haven't unified behind a plan of their own.
They have several options: an alternative offered by House Democrats, a plan put forth by the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, a scaled-down version of the president's package or a third Democratic proposal.
Some Democrats say they won't support any tax-cut stimulus plan at all right now.
"I would be hard-pressed to vote for any plan at this time," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. "I think we've got to be concerned about the deficit."
Mr. Bush last week proposed a 10-year, $674 billion stimulus package, half of which would go to eliminating taxes on corporate dividends.
Democrats say the Bush plan is skewed to the wealthy and does not include enough of an immediate boost for the sluggish economy. House Democrats countered with their own $100 billion, one-year proposal, which would provide one-time tax rebates similar to those of 2001 $600 for couples and $300 for individuals. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, has proposed his own $160 billion plan that includes a one-time exemption from federal tax on the first $3,000 of income.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said he is working with a group of Senate Democrats on yet another program worthabout $100 billion.
Mr. Baucus yesterday said support for the various plans is "fluid" because of their complexities.
Whatever comes out of the Senate almost certainly will differ from the House plan, where Republican leaders feel confident they can pass a bill closely resembling the president's proposal. Still, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, is staking out bargaining room, having declared the president's package "a floor, not a ceiling."
Mr. Baucus, who supported the final $1.35 trillion tax cut that the president backed in 2001, said he didn't see the same situation this time.
"I don't feel a lot of support for the president's plan, which leads me to conclude we're going to have to work out something different," he said.
Another Democratic supporter of the 2001 package, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, said he is open to a scaled-down version of the president's package that would target or limit the proposed dividend cut. Mr. Nelson said he wants to combine the long-term growth of the Bush plan with Democrats' focus on a quick boost for the economy.
"I'm looking at both stimulus and growth," he said. "I think it's a combination, and I think you'll ultimately have a plan that provides for both."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Democrats agree at least on the principles for an alternative: "It ought to be immediate, it ought to be targeted to the middle class, it ought to be fiscally responsible and we ought to provide money and help for the states."
Democrats say those principles can smooth out differences among their competing plans.
"The question of whether there is one Democratic alternative the answer is no, not at this point. But I suspect we'll sharpen this down to a major alternative," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.
"If you accept the premise that if it's 'stimulus,' it should happen right now, and that you don't want it to increase debt or the deficit long term at the expense of Social Security, once you've accepted that it be fairly allocated, I think you come up with something very close to Baucus or Pelosi, and I could support that," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, referring to plans proposed by the Democratic leader on the Senate Finance Committee and by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush made another pitch for his program at the White House yesterday during a ceremony celebrating welfare success stories.
"The plans I laid out recognize that the money we spend here isn't the government's money, it's the people's money. And the more money the people have in their pocket, the more likely this economy is going to grow," he said.
He has dispatched administration officials this week to promote his package to the American public.
The White House believes a consensus will build in time. Spokesman Ari Fleischer last week said the 2001 tax cut initially had no Democratic support but after several months passed with the votes of 12 Democrats.
Democrats said they do not underestimate the administration's power to attract senators' support.
"The president has many things to offer to bring over Democratic senators. I'm sure he, like other presidents, will use all the tools in his tool chest," Mr. Durbin said.
Some Democrats say the situation is different from 2001.
"The political landscape has shifted a lot since two years ago; that is, potential war with Iraq has kind of sobered people up a little bit," said Mr. Baucus.
Tax cuts have divided Senate Republicans as well. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, joined with Mrs. Feinstein in saying he would not support any of the proposals.
"Basically, I'm against any tax cuts until we can get a hold on our spending," he said.
He and Mrs. Feinstein are proposing a freeze on the tax cuts scheduled in the 2001 bill for the highest income-tax bracket.
A half-dozen Republicans reportedly voiced concerns about the president's plan in a closed-door meeting last week. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has publicly called the plan unbalanced.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, is proposing a tax increase. He has submitted legislation to create a 1 percent value-added tax on purchases other than food and prescription drugs, which he said could raise between $35 billion and $40 billion a year.
Mr. Hollings called House Democrats' proposal "low-fat tax cuts" and blamed them for playing the same "2004 campaign baloney" as Republicans.


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