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Jewish World Review August 1, 2000 /29 Tamuz, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy -- IF HOUSE REPUBLICANS can't get President Clinton to agree to new tax cuts -- as seems likely -- they are preparing a new "lockbox" or "debt wall" strategy to convince voters this is not a "do-nothing" Congress.

Under the strategy, if Republicans can't go into the election saying they've eliminated the marriage penalty and inheritance taxes, they would say they blocked Clinton's spending plans and trumped him in paying down the national debt.

The strategy involves allocating to debt reduction the amount of whatever tax cuts Clinton vetoes, creating a third "lockbox" to follow on those already instituted for Social Security surpluses and Medicare revenues.

Republicans think they have already escaped the "do-nothing" label that Democrats were eager to pin on them by adopting an "offensive agenda" of lockboxes, tax cuts and alternatives to Democratic proposals on patients' rights, education, prescription drugs and the minimum wage.

Moreover, Republicans think -- with some justice -- that they hit upon a shrewd tactic this year in splitting their tax cut wish list into its popular component parts and forcing Democrats to vote with them.

This ploy has been so successful that Clinton signed a bill lifting the earnings limit for Social Security recipients and is bucking public opinion in vetoing other measures.

In a rare example of cooperative bipartisanism, the House on Tuesday passed tax cuts worth $21 billion over 10 years as part of a broad effort to aid poverty communities. The vote was 394-27.

Of course, Democrats haven't given up on the "do nothing" charge, arguing that failure to enact laws on patients' rights, prescription drugs and many other issues constitutes failure on the part of the GOP Congress.

But Vice President Al Gore has been forced to modify Harry S Truman's 1948 "do nothing" attack into "do nothing for people," implicitly acknowledging that Congress has been active, but in aid of the privileged and special interests, not ordinary folks.

To regain the initiative for his party, Clinton has launched an all-out offensive against "the fiscally irresponsible, poorly targeted and regressive Republican tax plan."

In a radio address, Clinton charged that "Congressional Republicans are treating the budget surplus as if they'd won it in the lottery," planning to give it all away in tax cuts that would provide more relief to the top 1 percent of taxpayers rather than to the bottom 80 percent.

By White House calculations, Republicans so far this year have passed tax cuts worth $712 billion over 10 years -- $913 billion when you count lost interest savings -- and over the past two years, a total of $1.8 trillion.

Clinton is set to veto a just-passed $293 billion marriage penalty relief bill when it reaches his desk and a $105 billion estate tax repeal and has indicated he also opposes raising IRA and 401(k) contribution limits and reduction of taxes on Social Security benefits.

In a reversal of the GOP tactic of passing token measures on patients' rights and prescription drugs, Clinton has is offering a series of "targeted" tax cuts worth $263 billion over 10 years.

Clinton claims that by rejecting major tax cuts, his budget reserves enough of anticipated budget surpluses to pay off the $1.5 trillion federal debt by the year 2012, while also providing a prescription drug benefit for all seniors and increasing funds for health and education programs.

Republicans haven't definitely decided to give up on their tax cuts. First, they'll try to override Clinton's vetoes. If that's unsuccessful, leadership aides say, they may attach some tax relief measures onto legislation that Clinton wants, such as the minimum wage increase.

They may also repackage some cuts into a September budget reconciliation bill -- which would not be subject to a Democratic filibuster in the Senate -- and hope to negotiate a compromise with Clinton. But the President might veto that, too.

"What Clinton hopes," said one top GOP leadership aide, "is to dangle a few [tax cut] scraps in hopes that we'll suck up to a whole bunch of big spending programs" when Members are anxious to leave town in October to campaign.

"Last year, we waged the fight against new spending on the basis of preventing a raid on the Social Security Trust Fund," said the aide. "The fight this year will be, 'Are we going to take the money from these vetoed tax cuts and use them to pay down the debt, or are we going to spend them on new programs?' This will take us into the election. We'll be on the side of debt reduction."

Polls indicate that the public wants to use the budget surplus for debt reduction ahead of both spending and tax cuts. Gridlock in Washington might give the public what it wants. With both parties claiming credit -- and fighting to a draw -- the public just may decide that divided government is good.

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


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05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
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?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
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
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
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
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
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
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11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
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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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