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The First 100 Days: Debate Intensifies Over Tax Cut; House Hearings to Begin Over Alleged FBI Spy

Aired February 28, 2001 - 1:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Many members of Congress praised President Bush for trying to bridge the partisan gap in his address to the joint session of Congress last night -- others, though, took issue with some of his proposals.

The good, the bad and the ugly now from Capitol Hill -- here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know which one of those I am, Lou.

But let me tell you that the Republicans, by and large -- no surprise here -- are supportive of what the president has proposed. They believe he can reduce taxes by $1.6 trillion over 10 years, that he can increase spending by about four percent, that he can reduce the federal debt by about $2 trillion over 10 years and still have $1 trillion dollars left over for a contingency fund.

But the Democrats say he's dreaming. They say you cannot do all these things and still protect Medicare and Social Security. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia said it was sheer madness to be talking about a tax cut of the size the president has proposed. Democrats are saying particularly that it's very iffy to project a surplus 10 years out. They think that is quite an unreliable and unprofessional way to do things.

But the president wants things to move quickly on this tax cut. As you've indicated, he wants a clear political win early in his administration. And he also says that he believes a tax cut now will boost what he sees as a sagging economy.

Now, as you mentioned, the House Ways and Means Committee is taking up a portion of the tax bill. They'll start marking up tomorrow his proposal to reduce tax rates. But opinion on that committee is very much divided.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ... president's assumptions are based upon fuzzy mathematics, to be very honest, in addition to which, I don't know how we're going to afford a new anti- defense missile system at the same time that we have to deal with the alternative minimum tax issue and do all the things that the president said last night. We should do the budget first, and then we should discuss the tax cut, rather than doing what's being proposed: a tax cut and then the budget.

REP. JENNIFER DUNN (D), WASHINGTON: What you do is you pass what's very important in tax relief so that very, very soon, as soon as this bill is passed -- the across-the-board tax cut -- people will feel the increase of dollars in their pockets because their withholding amounts will drop.

That's important, and I think that will give the injection into the economy that we need right now. We've got other tax proposals -- we've got marriage penalty relief, we've got death tax repeal -- we'll deal with them down the line. But this is very important to do now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The Senate is going to be much more problematic for the president than the House. In the Senate, things are split 50/50 between the Republicans and the Democrats, and there have been some defections on both sides, although Democrats, too, say they want a tax cut; they just want to see a smaller one.

There is, of course, other news here on Capitol Hill. The pardon story continues to bubble along. Tomorrow, there are going to be hearings before the House Government Affairs Committee, and Congressman Dan Burton, the chairman of that committee, has been trying to get some records from the Clinton Presidential Library about who donated money to the library. He's trying to determine if there was any quid pro quo for any pardons that were granted.

We are told that right now there is a meeting going on in Burton's office between Congressman Burton; the ranking Democrat on the committee, Henry Waxman; and also David Kendall, who's representing the interests of the Clinton library.

We'll bring you those developments as they become apparent to us.

Lou, now back to you.

WATERS: Jeanne, what's likely on the tax cut. It's a full-court press by President Bush. Are there any compromisers in the middle of this? Is it all or nothing at all for the Bush administration, or are we likely see some form of a tax bill?

MESERVE: I think you're likely to see some form of a tax bill, but there are pressures on both sides: There are some Republicans who would like to see something larger than $1.6 trillion over 10 years, there are many Democrats who say we need something a little less. How exactly all this is going to play out in the weeks and months to come I'm not going to predict for you -- Lou.

WATERS: OK, Jeanne, and you are definitely not the ugly up on Capitol Hill.

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