Risks for GOP in Major Tax Cuts House Poised to Vote on $800 Billion GOP Plan, despite Public Disinterest

By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Risks for GOP in Major Tax Cuts House Poised to Vote on $800 Billion GOP Plan, despite Public Disinterest


Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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 Hill.

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 taxation. Why?

"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 of Congress.

As campaign season gets under way, Republicans anticipate that a strong antitax stance will solidify support from the party's conservative constituents. …

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