Analysis: Tax debate far from over
By Randy Lilleston/AllPolitics.com
July 29, 1999
Web posted at: 12:59 p.m. EDT (1659 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 29) -- As senators stressed urgency Thursday on a nearly $800 billion Republican-backed tax cut plan, the debate nonetheless looked likely to drag well into the fall and possibly become a major issue in the 2000 elections.
Differences between House and Senate plans, a White House veto threat, a long congressional recess and looming election-year politics all press against quick action on a tax package. It is possible a final bill will be one of the last actions of Congress this year, allowing Republicans to leave town in the wake of a tax cut and leaving President Bill Clinton in a potentially lonely position should he veto the measure.
The framework of the fall debate was being built this week. "I don't want (the president) to veto it either in the quiet of the night, or with great fanfare when we're not here," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) said Wednesday of the Senate GOP plan. But a recess veto looks unlikely, in part because of differences between the House and Senate measures.
Under current plans, the Senate is likely to vote on the measure Friday, and the GOP majority will help assure its passage. That will force the bill to a House-Senate conference committee, where leaders of both chambers appoint members to try to work out a compromise.
But with little more than a week remaining before the planned August 7 recess, it is unlikely much work will be done before Congress leaves. It does not return until after Labor Day.
That gives members a chance to go back to their districts and pitch their positions to constituents. "I would like us to have an opportunity to go to our respective districts and our states and tell the American people why this is the right thing to do," Lott said Wednesday.
Once Congress returns from the recess, members may attempt to work on a compromise in earnest. But looming in the background is a veto threat by the president.
He renewed that threat Thursday. "What is being done now is wrong," Clinton said before leaving for a summit in the Balkans. And the White House's insistence that it will not support a tax cut above $300 billion means compromise will be difficult.
However, a group of moderate congressional Democrats appear likely to support a tax cut package in the $500 billion range, particularly if there are provisions that would void a tax cut if budget surpluses fall below forecasts.
Several Democratic moderates in the Senate Finance Committee already back an alternative provision of that size, along with several Republicans. That group could stand at the center of a framework for a compromise, and a bipartisan measure could be more difficult for Clinton to veto.
As the measure drags into the fall, it is likely both parties will consider the issues of timing and credit. By waiting until the end of the session to pass a compromise measure, Republicans could make a tax cut their signature issue of the congressional session. They then could leave town, leaving Clinton to act alone on his veto threat -- or to back down in the shadow of an election year.
Clinton, in turn, could gain solace from polls showing a majority of Americans still prefer shoring up broad government entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, to tax cuts. "I hope again that we can get a bipartisan agreement that will save Social Security, save and reform Medicare, continue to invest in education and get this country out of debt," he said Thursday.
If Clinton makes good on a veto threat, Republicans may turn to the voters. With the presidency, every House seat and a number of Senate seats up for grabs in 2000, voters may make the ultimate tax cut decision.