- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Senate Democrats and a few Republicans are citing the impending war against Iraq as a reason to dramatically pare down or eliminate President Bush's $726 billion economic stimulus package.
Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, offered a doomed amendment yesterday that would prevent the passage of the president's tax package until the costs of conflict in Iraq are known and it is explained "how these costs fit within the budget plan as a whole."
Mr. Conrad's amendment would have also forced a three-fifths majority in the Senate to enact Mr. Bush's stimulus plan, which the Democrats say will cause the deficit to "explode."
The proposal failed largely along party lines, falling 17 votes short of the 60 needed to pass under budget rules. Another Conrad amendment, which would have redirected the bulk of the president's tax cut to "a reserve fund to strengthen Social Security trust funds over the long-term" was also rejected when 57 senators voted to kill it.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said the president's tax package is necessary to help the economy grow and improve the long-term fiscal outlook of the federal government.
"I'll continue to fight for that because I think anything less will not achieve the growth that we really need as we face deficits which are going to be aggravated by the war," Mr. Frist said.
In contrast, Mr. Conrad pointed out that in past wars, taxes were raised to pay for them. Cutting taxes now makes no sense, he said, when war-cost estimates are as high as $100 billion.
"In the past Second World War, First World War Uncle Sam delivered a message to the American people: It takes taxes and bonds," Mr. Conrad said. "And the message was that it takes common sacrifice to defend this nation. But that's not what [the Republican] budget says.
"This budget says, let's have a [big] tax cut that goes primarily to the wealthiest among us before there is any assessment of war cost or occupation cost or reconstruction or humanitarian aid cost. That strikes many of us as unwise," he said.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, agreed that no tax cuts should be on the table until the cost of war is known. But he said yesterday that he could not support Mr. Conrad's first amendment, because it would create "new, complicated points of order" that don't get to the heart of the matter.
"The Senate should speak directly to these concerns right now, and vote for or against tax cuts and nondefense spending increases in this budget resolution," Mr. McCain said.
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said she also is "increasingly concerned" about moving forward with the economic stimulus plan in light of war.
"Senator McCain makes a good point that if we know the cost is going to be considerable, should we be moving forward with a large tax package before we know that cost and the cost of beefing up homeland security?" she said.
The near certainty of war has seemed to put Mr. Bush's stimulus plan in jeopardy. Bipartisan support appears to be growing for a proposal expected to be introduced today by Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, to reduce the president's tax cut from $726 billion to $350 billion essentially killing the idea of eliminating the double taxation of stock dividends, a measure Republicans say will reinvigorate the stock market.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, who earlier said he wouldn't support a tax cut as high as that, embraced it yesterday as "better than the alternative."
"It's something I'd vote for," Mr. Dorgan said. "That doesn't mean you stop sawing at the tree limb. You've got to do this one step at a time."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said including the president's $724 billion stimulus plan in the budget will be a challenge.
"We don't know that we have the votes for anything," Mrs. Hutchison said. "We don't have a clear read. No one is making commitments."

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