Union Tribune

November 7, 2002 

U.S. CONGRESS 
Exultant Republicans ready to push agenda
Tax cuts, security issues at the top of must-do list

By FINLAY LEWIS and TOBY ECKERT 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON Savoring victory, President Bush and his
Republican allies in Congress prepared yesterday to revive a
long-stalled Republican agenda topped by permanent tax cuts
and renewed efforts to strengthen domestic anti-terrorism
defenses.

While the president stayed out of public view, White House aides
yesterday laid out a modest program that emphasizes economic
growth and homeland security when lawmakers convene next
week for a lame duck session.

Looking ahead to next year and the GOP majorities that will lead
the new Congress, top Republicans described an administration's
must-do list that is studded with items aimed at bolstering the
president's expected re-election campaign in 2004.

It includes energy legislation, manning the federal judiciary with
more conservative judges, increased education spending,
enacting a patients' bill of rights, pension protectio ns, attempts
to make health care more accessible for the poor and a measure
favored by the pharmaceutical industry to make prescription
drugs more affordable for the elderly.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats, stunned by their losses in
the House and the GOP resurgence in the Senate, appeared
headed for a possible bloodletting.

The Associated Press and other news services reported last night
that House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri would
not seek re-election to his leadership post. That development
occurred hours after at least one influential Democrat, Rep.
Harold Ford of Tennessee, declared in a radio interview, "It's
obvious that we need some fresh faces and in some cases fresh
ideas."

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, also had been urging a change.

"I like Dick and he's done a lot for the party," Filner said. "But he
was confusing his potential run for the presidency with the
leadership of the caucus. I think he did a lot of work, but it was
time for a change and new leadership."

Gephardt has spoken openly in recent days of his interest in a
possible presidential candidacy. A decision to quit his House
post would clear the way for a succession struggle between Reps.
Nancy Pelosi of California and Martin Frost of Texas, who rank
second and third in the party leadership.

Meanwhile, presidential aides, perhaps mindful of the GOP's
tenuous hold on congressional power, seemed determined to
avoid gloating in the election's aftermath and to instead stress
bipartisanship. They also shied from claiming a popular mandate
stemming from the elections.

"The president is going to work real hard to have more votes
than the people who oppose him, and put together those
bipartisan coalitions," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
told reporters.

But Fleischer and Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority
leader in waiting, made clear their determination to make
permanent the $1.3 trillion in tax cuts that were enacted two
years ago. The cuts, which include eventual elimination of the
marriage penalty and the estate tax, are to expire after 2010, at
which point the affected taxes will revert to their previous
levels.

They also spoke about a possible attempt at a sweeping overhaul
of the federal tax code an effort last achieved in 1986 and a key
objective of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

"I think the tax code is an absolute abomination that discourages
investment and incentives and growth and is unfair," Lott told
reporters.

In seizing control of the Senate for the first time since May 2001
and beefing up their slight majority in the House, Republicans
now appear poised to pursue their long-standing ideological
goals of reducing the tax burden on individuals and businesses,
slimming down the federal bureaucracy, cutting regulatory red
tape and beefing up the nation's military.

In addition, the administration now may be in a stronger
position to pursue the war on terrorism and, possibly, to launch
a military attack against Iraq.

But, apparently wary of inflating expectations, Bush aides and
congressional Republicans underscored the ability of
congressional Democrats, particularly in the Senate, to use
parliamentary rules to delay and obstruct GOP objectives.

Interviewed on NBC, Sen. Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, the
lame duck majority leader, vowed to continue Democratic
efforts to block any move to place the tax cuts on a permanent
footing. Daschle called such an effort bad policy because of its
impact on the national debt.

"We're not going to go away," Daschle said. "We may not be in the
majority, but we're going to fight."

Other Democrats began preparing their future lines of attack.

"The president got what he asked for (Tuesday) and now he will
have to produce," said Democratic National Committee
Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "No more blame game. No more
nonsense about a dysfunctional Senate. This is his sputtering
economy. He must take responsibility for it."

When Congress reconvenes next week for a post-election session
to complete its unfinished business, Fleischer said that the White
House's top two priorities will be to resolve a partisan impasse
over Civil Service protections now holding up creation of a new
Department of Homeland Security and enactment of a terrorism
insurance bill. Fleischer billed the latter as an economic
stimulus measure that would create about 300,000 jobs, many
for blue-collar construction workers.

But Fleischer also refused to commit the administration to
making a push for a constitutional amendment to ban so-called
partial birth late term abortions or for an overhaul of Social
Security that would allow workers to invest a portion of their
payroll taxes in private investment accounts.

Both issues could be controversial in the context of the looming
presidential campaign.

Fleischer said the president regarded the election results as "a
big victory."

Explaining the president's reluctance to publicly celebrate,
Fleischer added, "The president thought that the most
appropriate way to mark the day would be with a touch of
graciousness. And so the president is not going to have any
public statements today."

Copley News Service correspondent Otto Kreisher contributed to this report.