Democrats launch pre-emptive strike against Bush tax cuts

WASHINGTON, Los Angeles Times

A confident President-elect Bush said recently he will push forward with plans for a broad-based tax cut as “an insurance policy against an economic downturn.”

Bush said he looks forward to negotiations with Democrats, but showed no sign of retreating from the plan — a US$1.3 trillion cut in taxes — that was the centerpiece of his campaign.

“I campaigned on a tax relief package that I firmly believe — believed then and believe even more now — is important as an insurance policy against any economic downturn,” he said.

But Democratic congressional leaders, appearing on TV news shows, suggested the honeymoon with the new occupant of the White House may be over even before it begins.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Democrat-South Dakota, said Bush’s tax-cut proposal is far too big, spurned the issue of education vouchers as a ‘nonstarter’ and insisted there is no need to make any changes in the basic Social Security program.

And in a further sign that feelings remain bitter about the closely contested election, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Democrat Missouri, repeatedly refused to use the word “legitimate” to describe Bush as the next president. Gephardt would offer only the factual recognition that Bush is president-elect.

At a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas, Bush said taxes must be cut, and the Internal Revenue code made “more fair for those who struggle to get into the middle class.”

He said the plan shouldn’t be denounced before negotiations begin. “It doesn’t seem to make much sense for people to be drawing lines in the sand until we’ve had a chance to discuss things,” Bush said.

But Democratic leaders expressed strong opposition.

“I can’t think of anything that would divide this nation more quickly, right off the bat, than to impress upon the Congress the importance of passing a tax cut of that magnitude,” Daschle said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Bush proposal to give parents vouchers to pay for private schools if their children’s schools fail to improve over three years is “a nonstarter,” Daschle said. “Vouchers don’t work. They haven’t been supported in the past in public elections. They’re not supported in the courts. I don’t think we ought to go down that track.”

Daschle also was dismissive of another major Bush suggestion, to allow workers to keep some of their Social Security payroll taxes and place the money in personal accounts in the stock market. Democrats would accept a new retirement savings account in addition to Social Security, but they don’t want any changes in the basic Social Security retirement system, according to Daschle.

On the House side, Gephardt said his party has to work with the new president-elect “to try to solve the people’s problems,” but he was evasive when Tim Russert, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” tried to get him to acknowledge that Bush should be considered legitimately headed for the Oval Office.

Is he legitimate, Russert asked?

“We have to respect, we have to respect the presidency, we have to respect the law …,” Gephardt said.

Invited again to bestow the “legitimate” title, Gephardt would say only of Bush, “He is the president(-elect) of the United States.”