Congressional Republicans' multibillion-dollar tax-cut campaign,
unveiled with fife-and-drum corps rallies and calls for "financial
freedom," has so far elicited a ho-hum response from the public.
Unlike the 1980's tax revolts, in today's robust economy there is
no groundswell of Americans clamoring for tax relief from Capitol
Even more unsettling to the GOP leadership, more than a dozen
Republican lawmakers have threatened to bolt over the size and
contents of the nearly $800 billion, 10-year package, jeopardizing
its chances for passage this week in the narrowly controlled House.
Nevertheless, the party trudges onward in its battle against
"God put Republicans on earth to cut taxes," says Dan Mitchell of
the conservative Heritage Foundation here. "That is the underlying
vision that propels this 'cut-taxes-or-die' approach."
A range of powerful forces - ideology, history, and political
jousting before the 2000 election - has made tax cuts the overriding
issue of Republicans leading Congress today.
In fact, analysts say, tax relief is perhaps the only major
domestic issue that Republicans can convincingly lay claim to at a
time when traditionally Democratic causes, such as Social Security
and Medicare, are at the forefront. "It's still their strong suit,"
says Mr. Mitchell. "Even if no one is watching you play cards, you
still play your strong suit."
Historically, Republicans have opposed federal income taxes
virtually since the system was established in 1913, replacing tariffs
on imported goods as the main source of government revenue. The
ideological imperatives of countless past debates are echoed in
today's calls for limited government and relief for overtaxed
Americans - especially for those who pay the most.
"Principally, the debate about taxes is about freedom," says Rep.
Steve Chabot (R) of Ohio. "If you let people keep more of their own
money, people will have more freedom to live their lives as they see
fit, not as the government sees fit."
Moreover, at a time of mounting budget surpluses, many Republicans
see a compelling economic rationale for curbing taxes to stimulate
growth. The alternative, keeping the extra revenue in Washington,
will only guarantee politicians will spend it, they say.
The political strategy behind the GOP's proposed tax reductions -
the biggest since the Reagan-era cuts in 1981 - centers on setting
Republicans apart from Democrats in the heated 2000 race for control
As campaign season gets under way, Republicans anticipate that a
strong antitax stance will solidify support from the party's
conservative constituents. …