Three Senate Republicans Defect on Tax Cut

As U.S. troops were advancing toward Baghdad last week, the White House suffered a setback in its domestic agenda when three Republican Senators-including the normally conservative George Voinovich (R.-Ohio)-voted with most Senate Democrats to cut President Bush’s tax cut package in half.

The other two Republicans to defect were maverick Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and the liberal Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.). Any one of the three, it could be said, cast the deciding vote in the 51-48 roll call, since the only senator not voting was Zell Miller (D.-Ga.), an outspoken supporter of the tax cuts.

The March 25 vote on an amendment proposed by “moderate” Sen. John Breaux (D.-La.) reduced the room for tax relief in the budget from $750 billion to $350 billion.

“This amendment would cut the growth package in half,” said Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R.-Okla.) on the Senate floor. “It would cut the growth out of the growth package.” But Nickles could not persuade the three Republicans to stay on board.

The vote came as a surprise after similar Democratic attempts to reduce the tax package failed badly the previous week (see rollcalls, page 22. For this week’s vote, see rollcalls next week). A nearly identical amendment sponsored by Breaux (see rollcalls next week) also had failed 62-38. But then Breaux simply added language saying that the revenue allegedly saved by the change would be put into a Social Security reserve fund. That caused enough Senators to switch for him to win.

In an interview with HUMAN EVENTS before the second vote took place, Voinovich said he wanted to reduce the size of any new tax cut. “I’ll never see, in my lifetime-or at least in my career in the Senate-an on-budget surplus,” he said. He said the budget deficit this year could run as high as $550 billion-a number that one Budget Committee source said might be too small.

“You have this big $550 billion 2004 deficit, and I’m trying to keep spending within 4%, and then we have a war,” he said. “It’s the first time in my memory that we have a war and we’re trying to reduce taxes. Usually what you say is, ‘We’re going to sacrifice.’ But we’re trying to do it all.”

GOP Turncoats

Voinovich did not address the supply-side revenue enhancing impact of reducing the marginal tax rates. And when asked by HUMAN EVENTS why the government cannot sacrifice instead of taxpayers, and why Republicans have given up on the agenda of abolishing government departments and agencies in order to keep spending down, he talked only about the need for congressional oversight of agencies’ spending patterns.

“You can talk all you want to about eliminating agencies,” said Voinovich. “But the question is, how do you flat-fund agencies that have had a tremendous sum of money poured into them over a period of time, and how do you find the time to do the oversight that we don’t do around here?”

He suggested turning off some lights in the Senate office buildings to save money. “By just doing simple things here we can save a half-million, a million dollars,” he said. That was “million,” with an “m.”

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that the Senate vote against the tax cut would not reduce the deficit, but would instead lead Congress to spend the remaining money. “While those who back that amendment say that it will provide money in a reserve fund for Social Security, the history of such reserve funds is that they serve as a piggy bank for more spending,” he said.

Fleischer indicated the White House would fight for the full tax-cut package.