Bush Sends Tax-Cut Plan to Congress

Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush sent his $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax-cutting proposal to Congress on Thursday, insisting it is a necessary tonic for the economy. ``A warning light is flashing on the dashboard of our economy and we just can't drive on and hope for the best,'' he said.

``We need tax relief now. In fact, we need tax relief yesterday,'' the president said before dispatching Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to the Capitol to deliver the plan to eager Republican leaders.

Before a room full of reporters at the Capitol, O'Neill handed a summary of the plan to GOP leaders, who accepted it with glee. The documents were little more than a press release, and O'Neill said the administration would be releasing details in coming weeks.

``We want to assure the American people that tax relief is on the way,'' said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Bush spoke from the White House Rose Garden, where Latino business owners who he said symbolize the economy's potential, crowded around as he signed a letter formally sending the outlines of his proposal to Congress.

``I urge the Congress to pass my tax relief plan with the swiftness these uncertain times demand,'' Bush said. Republican leaders have said they hope to have tax cuts signed into law by the July 4 holiday but a fight over the scope of the package is brewing on Capitol Hill.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reiterated Thursday that Bush is ``firmly committed'' to the plan he put together. ``The president believes that whether you're a Republican or whether you're a Democrat, the bill shouldn't be loaded up,'' Fleischer said.

It was the president's first event in the Rose Garden and Bush appeared swept up by the moment, struggling for the right words to pay tribute to the small, green patch just outside the Oval Office: ``such a beautiful, beautiful part of our national — our national — really our national park system, I guess you would want to call it.''

The plan closely mirrors the cuts that Bush made the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, including reducing income-tax rates, easing the marriage penalty, phasing out the estate tax and boosting tax breaks for charitable contributions.

``The liberation of the American taxpayer has begun,'' House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said Wednesday.

Bush has devoted his third week in office to cajoling skeptical Democrats into supporting the tax cuts. They say the measure is weighted far too heavily toward the rich, who pay most of the taxes.

But, reflecting the tax cut's political momentum, Democrats who last year were supporting 10-year tax cuts of roughly $300 billion now say cuts of three times that size are justified. They hope to issue their own alternative soon.

To pressure the lawmakers, Bush also has staged a series of events with ``regular folks'' meant to build public support. The White House argues that the average tax cut for a family of four would be $1,600 a year under Bush's plan.

Wednesday evening, looking for congressional backing, Bush summoned nearly two dozen members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee to the White House.

Nearly all were Republicans; the gathering appeared to be an attempt by Bush to win over the outnumbered Democrats in the Cabinet Room. One lawmaker in the meeting said that if a vote were held today on Bush's plan, the House would likely split along party lines. Republicans hold a 221-211 advantage over Democrats in the House.

Several Democrats interviewed after the White House session said they were unswayed by Bush's pitch.

``We agreed to disagree,'' said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. ``We disagree on the sheer size.''

Bush faces another problem from within his own party. Some GOP members of Congress are pushing for broader cuts.

In a memo, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said ``returning $1.6 trillion or even $2.6 trillion to the people who earned the money is not unreasonable.''

Bush would pare the current five tax brackets to four. He also would cut taxes from today's rates of 15 percent to 39.6 percent to between 10 percent and 33 percent. The president also would expand child credits, ease the so-called marriage penalty and gradually repeal estate taxes.

Bush's plan is focused far more heavily on individuals than on corporations. As a result, many Republicans, particularly in the House, favor enlarging the package by adding breaks for corporations.

To justify the increases, they cite the economy's recent lethargic pace and skyrocketing estimates of budget surpluses, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last week could reach $5.6 trillion over the next decade.

Others have said that more of the projected federal budget surpluses would be best used to pay down the $3.4 trillion of the national debt held by the public.

Bush acknowledged the argument and said his plan does pay down the debt.