In the New York Times said, "For an Expert on...

THE HEADLINE

October 24, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THE HEADLINE in the New York Times said, "For an Expert on Tax Code, Bradley Is Strangely Silent."

That's Bill Bradley, the New Jersey senator who based his career in his second term on tax matters. He and fellow Democrat Rep. Richard Gephardt produced the 1986 tax reform legislation that was hailed at the time as a work to last for ages.

Now four years later, with the nation's tax accounts in shambles and Congress and the administration scrambling to re-write the tax code, Bradley is not involved. Asked why he hasn't joined his Finance Committee colleagues in wrestling with the re-write of the tax code, he says, "I wasn't invited."

Some people think he is just trying to keep his 1992 presidential chances from being damaged in the tax war. Could be. I thought he had ruled out a 1992 presidential bid, but now I'm not so sure. When he announced for re-election, he pledged that if he won, "I would serve my six year term." That seemed to rule out 1992.

But he said in a debate the other night that he did not "see any reason" that he would not honor that pledge. Oh, he doesn't see any reason? An unforeseen reason may come up in 1992.

My candidate (my in the sense that I had been betting he'd win the nomination; I never thought Bradley had a chance), who is Bradley's chairman on the Senate Finance Committee, is taking the opposite tack from Bradley, and is probably being hurt for it.

That's Lloyd Bentsen, the Texan vice presidential nominee of 1988. He is in the thick of the negotiations -- saying he's for soaking the rich but helping shape a compromise Republicans can support. That sort of balancing act usually doesn't work with the zealots who vote in presidential primaries. Add in the fact that at one time Bentsen was trying to raise taxes on home heating oil, which is like burning the American flag in New Hampshire and the rest of New England, and you can see he's got some tactical problems.

Well, so what else is new? I may be wrong about this, but I believe no member of the Finance Committee has ever been elected president. Bob Dole lost the nomination (and thus the presidency) in 1988 because of his membership on that committee.

Why do I say that? Because his knowledge of the intricacies of tax laws led him to refuse to sign a no-new-tax-law pledge during the New Hampshire primary campaign. As he later said, speaking like a Finance Committee expert, "You couldn't even close loopholes under that pledge."

George Bush took the pledge and won in New Hampshire, and that was the end of Bob Dole.

That Bush is now asking Dole and the Finance Committee to raise taxes for him is probably no consolation. Any more than the need for new taxes is for Walter Mondale, another old Finance Committee member, who pledged to raise taxes when he ran for president in 1984 and carried one state.

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