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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

War, deficits challenge GOP tax cuts

March 30, 2003

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— Only two of the six Kansans in Congress have voted for President Bush's $726 billion tax cut plan. The others are either opposed it or voted for half of what Bush wants.

The delegation has a record of supporting tax cuts with enthusiasm, but Congress and the White House are now facing the challenges of the cost of war with Iraq and burgeoning federal deficits.

That is why Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback found themselves voting Wednesday in favor of a budget for next year that would restrict tax relief to $350 billion despite their support for the president's tax policies. Earlier, they opposed the amendment that halved the tax cut.

"It is too soon to tell what form tax cuts will take," Roberts said afterward, noting that a new version of the measure will be hammered out by House-Senate negotiators.

But the Senate setback presents a problem for GOP leaders who are trying to convince Americans their government can afford to cut taxes right now.

"I think the country can't afford not to," said GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who along with Republican Rep. Jim Ryun voted for the full amount in the House. "When people get to keep some of their own money, they'll do one of three things: They'll either spend it, or invest it, or save it. All three things are good for the economy."

Moran votes against

Tiahrt is a deputy to Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who rounds up support for the Republican agenda in the House. There, Republicans managed to pass Bush's tax cut, but only by three votes.

They lost the support of Republican Rep. Jerry Moran as well as the delegation's lone Democrat, Rep. Dennis Moore. Both said they couldn't stomach the possibility of a federal budget shortfall reaching a record $400 billion this year.

"I voted for the president's tax cut two years ago, and at that time, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a $5.6 trillion surplus," Moore said. "I don't point fingers at the president or at the other party for the situation we're in, but it's just pure recklessness to suggest that we should be cutting taxes in the size the president is requesting."

Moore made a point of commending Moran, who joined a dozen Republicans in voting against the budget measure on March 21. "I think what Congressman Jerry Moran did was very courageous," Moore said.

Moran said: "It's not necessarily the tax cut, to me.

"I don't know what the right amount is. I'm supportive of tax cuts, and I do want some assurances, indicators that tax cuts will help grow the economy. But the deficits we're creating seemed to me to be too large, and we've got to force Congress to balance revenues," he said.

Moore and Moran were also worried about the cost of the war with Iraq and of the U.S. drive against terrorism at home and abroad, for which Bush is now seeking $74.7 billion.

Republican strategy

These are the arguments facing GOP leaders as they try to determine the best way to proceed. Should they pursue a new tax cut measure? Should they focus their energies on getting negotiators in a House-Senate conference committee to boost the Senate's tax cut number?

Roberts said he's hopeful about the latter possibility: "When the House and Senate go to conference on the budget resolution, a new proposal could arise," he said.

The Senate setback is somewhat symbolic, because the measure won't become law, anyway. Budget resolutions set a threshold for spending bills that come later.

But the setback created rougher sailing for tax cuts in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-48 edge with one Democratic-leaning independent. Now, any tax measure with a price tag bigger than $350 billion will need 60 votes, rather than a 51-vote simple majority.

Blunt, who is from neighboring Missouri, said neither the House nor the president is ready to concede the need for significant tax relief.

"The House committed itself to the president's number, which is a number that allows significant economic things to happen over the next 10 years that wouldn't happen otherwise," Blunt said.

"We think the Senate position is a pretty feeble position for them to take," he said.

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