The Bush tax cut - Act II

Senate: House passage was easy, but now the president must modify plan to pick up Democratic votes.

March 13, 2001

A CHORUS of determined Republicans sang President Bush's praises last week as they passed the biggest part of his tax-cut plan with little Democratic support. So much for ending the bitter partisan battle in Washington.

The first act of this drama played out just the way conservative House Republicans wanted it: No compromise with Democrats, no inclusion of their ideas, no deviation from Mr. Bush's across-the-board tax-rate cut.

Such an approach won't work in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans share power.

Many senators fear the size of the Bush tax cut, given the economy's continuing sluggishness. There's also growing awareness that such a huge tax cut - $1.6 trillion over 10 years - will mean less money for popular programs.

Already, leading Republicans want to restore money for agriculture, energy and transportation. Others seek more military funds. Meanwhile, key GOP leaders say they'd support a slimmed-down tax cut less tilted toward the rich.

Republican moderates want to impose "triggers" as the tax-cut bill phases in. They are concerned - with good reason - about affordability. If the economy continues to head south or if emergencies occur, tax cuts must be shelved.

Act I in the House moved swiftly, as a disciplined Republican majority rammed through the tax-rate cuts. Act II promises to be more time-consuming.

Senators haven't reached a consensus on the tax-cut bill. Mid-year revenue forecasts could prove pivotal. Public sentiment still favors a smaller package.

The president could also suffer defections when the full details of his budget are released next month. Then we will know which programs are getting hammered to make room for the tax cuts.

Is the president willing to compromise? Will he live up to his campaign promise to work cooperatively with Democrats?

He proved unyielding in the House. That approach isn't likely to give this drama a happy ending.

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