In a bit of political hardball that has surprised some GOP lawmakers, administration officials are planning a barnstorming campaign for President Bush’s $674 billion tax-cut plan by targeting the home states of Congressional Republicans who have been openly skeptical of the plan.
Administration officials said they hope the effort on the part of Bush’s economic team will help create public pressure on wavering Members and create more votes for the proposal, which many deficit-conscious Republicans have criticized as too costly and inadequate as a quick stimulus for the economy.
But many targeted GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio), said the plan — which is reminiscent of the tactics successfully used by the White House against Democrats in the 2002 midterm elections — is misguided and ultimately will not change their decision on whether to support the president’s tax plan.
“They’re making a big mistake,” said Voinovich, whose state has been identified by the administration as a target because of the Senator’s opposition to Bush’s nearly $370 billion proposal to eliminate the double taxation of dividends.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in Ohio, and I’m sticking to my guns,” Voinovich added.
Still, the economic team — led by Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Treasury Secretary John Snow — will be traveling extensively during March in the Northeast, Midwest and South, according to Bush administration officials.
States that have at least one GOP Senator and one GOP Representative on the fence will take precedence, said administration officials.
“Clearly this is focused at passing the tax plan. We need to do everything we can to shore up support for it,” said one Bush official.
Members of the economic team, which also includes Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, White House economic adviser Steven Friedman and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Glenn Hubbard, will also be traveling to states with GOP Members who support the tax cut but may need a public relations boost.
By courting hometown newspapers and television news, Evans and Snow hope to convince the public that the president’s plan would actually increase revenues in most states and help create jobs. Ohio, for example, would see a $185 million increase in revenues in 2003 and an additional $336 million in 2004, according to an administration analysis.
Voinovich scoffed at the economic predictions for Ohio, saying the state would actually have to spend more money on capital projects, such as road construction, as a result of the dividend proposal’s effect on state and municipal bonds.
Voinovich, who carries a copy of deficit and debt projections in his pocket, said he supports eliminating double taxation of dividends as part of a larger tax-reform measure that would help mediate the negative affects on states and the federal deficit.
The White House has also targeted Maine’s two GOP Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Both, however, rejected the notion that an administration media blitz would change their positions, which they both described as fluid.
“My state is a very independent state, and people will want me to do what I think is best,” said Collins, who added that she was “not troubled by their lobbying campaign.”
Collins said she continues to question whether the dividend proposal would create an immediate positive effect on the economy and noted she wants to add fiscal relief for states to the package. Still, she insisted, “I haven’t drawn a line in the sand.”
Snowe said she didn’t understand why the White House would waste its time running around the country when they should be working more on Capitol Hill.
“It’s one thing to create strong support for a position, but we have to be the ones actually crafting the policy,” said Snowe. “That’s not the way to actually construct policy.”
Snowe has also expressed concerns about the wisdom of the dividend proposal. She said she would continue to convene near-weekly meetings of Senate moderates on the tax-cut issue.
“We have to decide what type of position we’re prepared to accept,” she said.
Some lawmakers in targeted states are applauding the Bush administration plan as the best way to engender public support.
“I have an interest in having them talk to groups in Ohio,” said Rep. Rob Portman (Ohio), a member of the GOP leadership. “I think the important thing is that they just get out and talk about it.”
A strong White House ally, Portman has been an advocate of the tax cut but has come under fire from the administration for his concerns about their new retirement security and savings proposals.
But Portman may have to wait until later in March for those visits. So far, Evans is scheduled to hit Chicago on March 5 — a trip potentially aimed at sometimes-moderate Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.). Evans’ New Hampshire visit on March 7 is not intended to put pressure on that state’s Republicans, but to shore up support for the president in a potential 2004 presidential swing state, said one Bush administration official. However, the official noted that New Hampshire media serves much of southern Maine.
Evans is also scheduled to hit West Virginia and Pennsylvania in early March. Snow’s official schedule has not yet been released.