Coming off a failed effort last year to win a huge tax cut for
Americans, congressional Republicans are back in town with a new
fiscal message for this year: Let's reduce the national debt.
That, of course, is the same as saying, "Let's not do much,"
because any unused portions of the federal budget surplus
automatically default to paying down the $3.7 trillion publicly held
Still, Republicans on the Hill call their debt-reduction plan
"significant," and say it won't preclude cutting taxes.
But, in a clear shift in strategy, the bite-size, targeted cuts
they are proposing for this year are minuscule compared with last
year's tax-cut banquet - and are even far smaller than cuts being
proposed by GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush.
What all this portends, say many Congress-watchers, is a year of
modest legislative accomplishment, as lawmakers delay some of the
hard issues until a new president is elected.
"Debt retirement is the default position," says Stephen Moore,
fiscal-policy director for the Cato Institute here. "It's an
indication that they don't have a very bold or exciting agenda for
So far, neither the Republican leaders of Congress nor the White
House and Democrats have launched the new year with bold policy
"If this is what you are leading with, you know there will be no
big proposals up ahead," says Stanley Collender of the federal
budget consulting group at Fleishman-Hillard Inc., a Washington
Nibbling around the edges
Prospects for major legislative compromises in a short
congressional session (starting Jan. 24 and ending in early October)
are also dim as each party focuses on the coming election. The GOP
is only five seats from losing control of the House of
"Republicans want to get out of town as early as possible to
campaign," says Mr. Moore.
As a result, analysts predict continued stasis on Capitol Hill,
with Republicans tinkering with small tax cuts while mounting a rear-
guard battle against White House spending proposals.
The White House agenda includes a new proposal for $1.3 billion
in loans and grants to renovate schools. The rest of the Democrats'
wish list is largely unfinished business from last year, including
health-care insurance reforms, gun control, and raising the minimum
wage. President Clinton will formally unveil his fiscal 2001 budget
Republicans will focus on improving trade ties with China and WTO
membership, high-tech issues such as digital signatures, and - most
notably - greatly scaled-back tax cuts.
Backing away from a big tax cut may be a pragmatic move for the
GOP. Last year's $792 billion, 10-year package, which Mr. …