New Hampshire's primary as referendum on Bush jobs bill On Politics Today

Jack W.Germond and Jules Witcover

February 04, 1992|By Jack W.Germond and Jules Witcover

Manchester,N.H. -- THE SCENE IN a spacious, vacant floor of an old textile mill as Vice President Dan Quayle spoke here the other day was a familiar one to all who have seen the striking television ad of Sen. Tom Harkin, competing in the Feb. 18 Democratic primary.

In a similar textile mill, Senator Harkin is seen arguing how the economic policies of President Bush have led to the closing of such once-thriving plants.So there was a certain irony in the choice of Mr. Quayle's schedulers to bring him to this symbol of New Hampshire's decline to tout Mr. Bush's remedy.

The vice president earlier had warned that the Democratic-controlled Congress would be in for a tough fight if it failed to meet Mr.Bush's deadline of March 20 for passage of his economic package. But here at the old textile mill, Mr. Quayle seemed already to be acknowledging that the Democrats were not going to give Mr. Bush what he wanted, in what they see as a warmed-over version of trickle-down economics chiefly benefiting the well off.

"We have no alternative but to go to the American people," Mr. Quayle told a group of local reporters here. Ticking off Mr. Bush's call for a capital gains tax rate cut, real estate tax breaks and personal exemption increases for dependent children, Mr. Quayle said: "This is the only plan around . . . The president is adamant and firm about that deadline."

Of commentator Pat Buchanan's plea to New Hampshirites to "send a message" to the president by voting for him, Mr. Quayle said: "I hope they don't send a message that they support the Democratic Congress at this very important time. That would be very counterproductive."

Asked whether he was saying a vote for Mr. Buchanan would be a vote for the Democratic Congress, Mr. Quayle dodged, insisting that "the best way to send a message to the Democratic Congress is to support the president." But in so saying,the vice president appeared to be asking voters to make the approaching GOP primary here a referendum on the Bush recovery plan.

In an open forum with voters at Milford High School later, Mr. Quayle was explicit. He urged his audience "to make sure the message sent, and the vote recorded, on Feb. 18 is one that supports the president in his battle against the Congress."

Considering the strong anti-Bush sentiment that is being voiced in the state out of a sense that the president has waited too long to respond to its economic distress, such a referendum would seem a risky strategy. Here as elsewhere, polls suggest that the Bush plan has been greeted with little enthusiasm or expectation of success.

The tough talk of confronting Congress with a deadline would not figure to have much resonance in a state that has made much of the way Mr. Bush broke his no-new-taxes promise at the 1988 convention -- a promise featured prominently in the Buchanan television and radio ads now flooding the state's airwaves.

At the Milford forum, Mr. Quayle sought to defend Mr. Bush's agreement to raise taxes as part of the budget deal with Congress as an inevitable product of the people electing "divided government," with one party controlling the White House and the other controlling Congress. "When you have that divided government," he said, "you'd better expect compromise, you'd better expect confrontation . . ."'

It was a rather odd point to make at a time Mr. Quayle was telling the voters of New Hampshire that Mr.Bush, as he was with his original no-new-taxes pledge, was "adamant and firm" about imposing a deadline by which time he expected Congress to accept his recovery plan.

Instead, Mr. Quayle seemed to be suggesting that unless the voters sent a strong message to the Democrats controlling Congress that they were firmly behind the president, another compromise by Mr. Bush was inevitable.

Later, however, he told reporters that if Congress sends Mr. Bush its own jobs bill, "I'm sure the president will do what he normally does with unacceptble pieces of legislation" -- suggesting he would veto it. If so, the choices clearly will be stalemate or compromise, just as they were on the budget deal when Mr. Bush broke his no-new-taxes promise, unless Congress for the first time overrides a Bush veto.

For now, though, Mr. Quayle is expressing hope that the primary vote here, contrary to conventional wisdom, will convince Congress to swallow the Bush package.

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