More Senate Democrats yesterday disputed
Majority Leader Tom Daschle's contention that the Bush administration's
income-tax cut, which 12 Senate Democrats approved, had worsened the
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who usually stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. Daschle against the White House on budget questions, said Mr. Gephardt wanted to stay out of the "Washington blame game."
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, who co-sponsored the tax cut in the Senate last spring, said Mr. Daschle's comments made neither political nor economic sense.
"Maybe it's at a level my brain can't reach," Mr. Miller said. "How do you have as one of your highest priorities to re-elect the moderate Democrats from South Dakota, Montana and Missouri on one hand, then on the other hand blame them for voting for a tax cut that he maintains has created this recession? Hello?"
The Democratic senators to whom he referred — Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Max Baucus of Montana and Jean Carnahan of Missouri — all voted for the $1.35 trillion tax cut, and all were running for re-election in states that Mr. Bush carried in 2000.
Mr. Johnson said through a spokesman that he sees no reason to regret his vote for the tax cut or repeal the tax relief.
"He would probably look at anything that comes up, but he's just not expressed an interest in doing anything different than he did then," spokesman Bob Martin said.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Max Cleland said the Georgia Democrat "is not interested in revisiting the tax cut." Tony Wyche, a spokesman for Mrs. Carnahan, said she wants to stay the course on tax relief.
"She would be supportive of allowing the tax cuts they voted for to keep going," he said.
Mr. Daschle, who increasingly has been mentioned as a Democratic candidate for president in 2004, said on Friday that the tax cut not only didn't prevent a recession but probably made it worse. President Bush and congressional Republicans say Mr. Daschle intends to delay or repeal the tax cuts, in effect increasing taxes, though Mr. Daschle denies that charge.
Since Mr. Daschle made his comment, Democrats who supported the tax cuts were put on the defensive. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat running for re-election, said during the weekend that she still believed her vote for the tax cuts was the correct decision.
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said on CNN that repealing the tax cuts would amount to a tax increase, which would be "the worst thing you can do" in a recession.
A spokesman for Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana said he "can't imagine that she would advocate delaying or repealing" the tax cut.
Asked whether Mr. Gephardt agreed with Mr. Daschle that the tax cut deepened the recession, spokeswoman Kori Bernards said her boss didn't want to point fingers.
"We all feel fiscally [the tax cut] was the wrong thing to do, but what's done is done," she said. "We need to look at what we've got and go from there."
Mr. Gephardt's office later released a statement in which Mr. Gephardt said Republicans were playing a "blame game" by accusing Mr. Daschle of trying to raise taxes.
"I have not heard one Democrat say he or she wants to raise taxes," Mr. Gephardt said. "If this partisan blame game continues, it is going to be hard for us to come together, like we need to do, and get this economy going. We have a lot to do in terms of helping people who have lost their jobs, providing a solid education for every American child, helping seniors afford prescription medicine and creating a balanced energy plan that reduces our dependence on foreign oil."
Mr. Gephardt, too, is considering a run for president. It is Mr. Gephardt's turn to deliver the Democratic response Jan. 29 to Mr. Bush's State of the Union address; House and Senate Democratic leaders alternate that responsibility.
The Democrats' vice-presidential candidate in 2000, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that repealing the administration's tax cuts at least should be "on the table."
Referring to pending budget deficits, Mr. Lieberman said, "Let's remember that most of the tax cut has not yet gone into effect."
Politicians and analysts alike point out that the tax cut reduced the federal surplus by $38 billion in the current fiscal year, a fraction of the overall tax relief.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said in a radio interview yesterday that Democrats were angling for tax increases.
"For them to say that the tax-relief package we passed has caused a slowdown in the economy and the rise in deficit is totally ludicrous," Mr. Lott said. "Only $38 billion of it even kicks in this year. They just cannot stand the idea of letting working men and women keep more of their own money or providing incentives to small-business men and women to create more jobs. That's what really is at stake."
Mr. Lott also challenges Senate Democrats to act immediately when Congress returns Jan. 23 on four priorities: an economic recovery bill, a national energy plan, a farm bill and fast-track trade authority for the president.
The Mississippi Republican said lawmakers must complete work on those issues quickly before their agendas bog down in election-year partisanship.
He said on "Common Sense Radio with Ollie North" that deficit spending appears inevitable this year, with demands for increased spending on homeland security and defense.
"There are some things we're just going to have to have some spending on," Mr. Lott said. "We've already committed some $60 billion as a direct result of what happened on September 11, with the disaster cleanup, the disaster assistance, transportation costs and defense costs that are still going to go up because we're still on the trail of terrorists around the world. This is going to take an investment."