- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

As we went to press last night, all indications were that President Bush would exhort Congress to pass his $674 billion tax package, the hallmark of which ends the double-taxation on dividends. No doubt the Republican side of the aisle erupted into applause.
That's a far different reception than when it was first delivered to Capitol Hill earlier this month. It was expected that the majority of Democrats would oppose the bill; that irksome Republicans like John McCain and Lincoln Chafee would join them; and that moderates like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins would express reservations. But even among the GOP's most loyal tax-cutting hawks, the president's package landed with a thud. Disagreements in policy accounted for some of that, but to an unnatural degree, it was borne of their displeasure at not playing a bigger role in the bill's crafting.
On the House side, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Thomas, issued a three-sentence press release acknowledging receipt of the proposal, and then left promptly for a 10-day sojourn through Africa with orders that his staff not comment. Since then, he's been less-than-enthusiastic ("My job is not to say, 'Attaboy. Good deal,' " he said Monday). Mr. Thomas' ruffled plumage isn't causing too much concern among House Republicans, and some even find satisfaction that he is getting his just desserts: Under his imperial chairmanship, Ways and Means members regularly gripe that they are kept out of the loop. Support for the bill is high among the disciplined Republican conference, and the House leadership is confident it can pass the package, more or less as it is, by Memorial Day.
But the president's tax package will have the greatest difficulty in the Senate, where there is a feeling that the Bush administration badly bungled its presentation. A number of key GOP senators, including several on the budget and taxation committees, were barely consulted during its drafting, and those limited meetings that did take place concerned how the package would be massaged through rather than what the package would contain. Failure to educate and address members' concerns early on only increases the potential for such disagreements to take place in public. Hence, Sen. George Voinovich's statement soon after it was unveiled. "As far as the eye can see, I see red," the Ohioan said, referring to the deficit's return. It seems likely that a tax bill the president finds satisfactory will be passed out of the Senate by the middle of September. But, for the time being, there are some bruised egos in that notoriously ego-driven chamber.
What troubles us is that the last several months has seen several areas of friction that suggest a less-than-harmonious GOP troika. Republican senators have expressed frustration that they are being left out of the loop on Iraq, and complained of puppeteering in the replacement of Trent Lott as majority leader (though it must be said that many GOP senators welcomed the White House's meddling). Whatever the legitimacy of these claims, it's clear the White House would do well to improve relations with Republican senators. As their public support for the president's tax proposal shows, most are willing to rise above petty concerns and recognize good policy (and politics) when they see it. But in a 51-49 Senate, it's the margins that matter.

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