A 'dramatic' Dole tax cut? Supply-sider pressure: GOP nominee should remain true to long record as deficit hawk.

June 05, 1996

THERE THEY GO AGAIN. After quadrupling the national debt in the Reagan-Bush years and after seeing candidate-of-choice Steve Forbes blow it in the 1996 Republican primaries, the supply-sider crowd is now trying to capture their old nemesis, Sen. Bob Dole.

For a price, supply-siders are even willing to forgive Mr. Dole's long, quiet efforts to ease the damage of the Reagan tax cuts by adhering to balance-the-budget, cut-the-deficit economics. All they want is that he resurrect Reaganomics by embracing a 15 percent, across-the-board cut in tax rates that would add $90 billion a year to the deficit. Or, failing that, a rollback of President Clinton's 1993 tax increases that, with help from House Republican deficit hawks, have helped cut the projected fiscal 1996 deficit from $287 billion to $144 billion.

The danger is that Mr. Dole may figure his campaign is in such deep trouble it can be saved only through what Mr. Forbes calls "a dramatic tax change and tax cut." The double danger is that Mr. Clinton will pile on. Witness his new tax break offer for college tuition.

It could be argued that the first duty of a presidential nominee is to win, and that a big tax cut is the only silver bullet available to Mr. Dole. But it could be counter-argued that the Kansas senator's biggest asset is character, and that so blatant a switch on tax policy would open him to the kinds of taunts usually reserved for his Democratic foe.

As Republicans mull over these political considerations, it is incumbent on the deficit hawks in the GOP to take on the supply-siders. It is not easy to sell austerity to middle-class voters battling to make ends meet in an era of stagnant wages. But in recent years, as the enormity of the debt burden has sunk into the American psyche, there has been a growing realization that future generations must be protected from the profligacy of the current one.

It was bad enough that President Reagan slashed tax rates 25 percent without pushing through commensurate spending cuts when the national debt was $1 trillion. It would be outrageous to go through a similar exercise when the debt is $5 trillion and entitlement programs are fiscal time bombs ready to go off.

If Senator Dole goes the tax-cut route, he should demand simultaneous or prior spending cuts as an unyielding condition. For, as he said, Friday, balancing the budget "must be our first obligation." Such an approach would allow him to propose sweeping revisions in the tax code without trashing a fine lifetime record of economic rectitude.

Pub date: 6/05/96

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