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Jewish World Review March 13, 2001 / 18 Adar 5761

Morton Kondracke

Kondracke
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Nice talk aside, Bush team wants to win above all


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- JUST as Bill Clinton erred by aligning too closely with liberal Democrats early in his presidency, moderate Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) thinks President Bush is tying himself too closely to conservative hard-liners on the tax issue at the moment.

Senate aides say Breaux issued a warning to Bush to that effect at a meeting last week at the White House. Bush aides contend that Breaux merely expressed a "general concern ... a hope for more bipartisanship."

However, in an interview with me and in various other forums, Breaux has been outspoken in protesting that Bush is undermining the bipartisan spirit he supposedly wants to foster by pushing his tax bill through the House without consulting with Democrats and without first passing a budget resolution.

"It's creating a legacy of bitterness," Breaux told me. "It's uniting Democrats against him in a way the House Democratic leadership could never do by itself. And it will block future co-operation on issues like education, Medicare and Social Security."

The White House and House GOP leaders want a fast tax victory at a time when a new survey taken by Clinton's longtime pollster, Mark Penn, shows 68 percent support for Bush's plan.

And Bush undoubtedly will win his big tax vote in the House today. But White House aides agree with Democratic leadership estimates that fewer than 10 Democrats will vote for the tax-relief plan.

Breaux said such tactics "represent the same old culture of 'win, no matter what' that I thought Bush was trying to get away from. That can never work in the Senate. [Bush] may win in the House, but lose in the end."

Clinton famously lost his health care reform campaign - and control of Congress - by trying to win legislative battles with Democratic support only, as advised by his party's leadership.

Breaux believes that Bush is similarly following the lead of House GOP leaders who are accustomed to ignoring Democrats and pushing through legislation almost exclusively with Republican votes.

Breaux's conciliatory, consultative, "center-out" approach, which he's been advocating year-in and year-out, certainly is at odds with the victory-oriented attitude prevailing at the White House. The win-at-all-costs stance, however, also prevails among Democratic leaders.

Even though Bush has made grand gestures of outreach to Democrats, it's clear that he and his top aides are more interested in winning than in bipartisan collegiality.

The White House believes - without a doubt correctly - that Democratic leaders primarily want to negotiate in order to slow down Bush's agenda so they can defeat it.

According to the White House, the idea of getting an early House tax victory to establish momentum originally came from House GOP leaders.

However, at first they suggested passing a bill containing popular items such as marriage-penalty and estate-tax relief that could achieve big bipartisan majorities.

The White House, aides there say, decided it would be better to lead with the more difficult task of income tax rate cuts, which Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) fashioned into a bill and pushed through his committee last week on a party-line vote.

Democrats complained that they had no input on the bill beforehand and, in the case of the conservative Blue Dogs, that Republicans failed to pass a budget resolution before starting on tax cuts.

Moreover, Democrats say that getting Bush's tax bill through the House quickly will not speed it to passage in the Senate, where a budget resolution won't be voted on until early April and a tax bill sometime thereafter.

One Democratic leadership aide said that by going for a quick House victory, "Bush lost the opportunity to show he's different. It's same old, same old around here. 'We've got the votes and we're going to ram it through ... get four or five Democratic votes, call it bipartisanship and have a nice day.'"

What's more, the aide observed, there's been no Bush follow-up on promises of continuing contact with House Democratic leaders since late January. "There was radio silence all during February. Bush didn't even call when he bombed Iraq."

Top Bush advisers are acting as if House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) is, at bottom, an adversary who needs to be defeated, not conciliated.

Gephardt, according to one White House aide, "just wants to slow [the tax plan] down. He knows that the faster this [tax] vote is held, the sooner subsequent votes will come.

"He recognizes that the faster Bush looks, the stronger Bush looks. Those [who] are leading the way in objecting to our procedure are people who want the bill to fail."

Moreover, the White House predicts that today's House vote "will be the high-water mark for the Democrats." In subsequent votes, such as the forthcoming marriage penalty-estate tax measure and final passage of tax legislation, many more Democrats will come aboard.

Meantime, there's the Senate to navigate. There, Bush will talk to Democrats and wavering Republicans. He is also putting pressure on them by campaigning for his plan in their home states.

The real test of bipartisanship will come when Bush faces the need to compromise on the substance of the tax bill. He still can act in a bipartisan fashion and get substantially what he wants. That would make him a political winner.



JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

Up

03/08/01: Tax fight turns back to question of what's 'fair'
03/06/01: Bush and Congress should prepare for lean years
03/01/01: Bush needs group to promote ideas in Black America
02/26/01: Bush should talk about long-term budget challenges
02/22/01: AARP's agenda at odds with Bush priorities
02/20/01: When will Dems finally say Clinton is unfit leader?
02/14/01: McCain won't run against Bush again, just differ on issues
02/12/01: Is Joe Lieberman tilting left toward 2004?
02/07/01: The controversy starts: Bush orders HHS study of fetal, stem cell issues
02/05/01: Dems move toward bush on taxes, but ...
02/01/01: Bush should be open with press
01/30/01: Bush Should go for broke early on education
01/23/01: Clinton ain't going away, folks
01/19/01: Bush should try for legacy as 'Great Reconciler'
01/16/01: Left-Center Rift Re-emerges For Democratic Leaders
01/12/01: Clinton doing Bush no favors in Mideast
01/09/01: Bush and Democrats can deal
12/14/00: Will Daschle make it his business to get along with President Bush?
12/08/00: GOP is in danger of ruining record on medical research
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11/15/00: With nation split, leaders must reach across party divide
11/07/00: The Envelope, Please:Bush Beats Gore, GOP Holds Hill
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10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
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08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
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07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
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05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
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05/18/00: Gore should regroup
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05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
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03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
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02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
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12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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