Republicans embraced President Bush’s $694 billion economic plan Thursday, introducing bills in both chambers to enact the package he outlined in January.
In the Senate, Democrat Zell Miller (Ga.) backed Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.) while House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) had only fellow Republicans, including Treasury Secretary John Snow, accompanying him.
“As the line in that old hymn says, when the roll is called up yonder on the president’s tax cut, I will not be the only Democrat voting for it; I guarantee it,” predicted Miller, who is retiring in 2004.
But even if other Democrats join Miller in supporting the cut, they are sure to be a minority among their party. Democratic leaders have been extremely critical of Bush’s proposal to eliminate individuals’ taxes on corporate dividends — central to his economic package — and continued to decry the move Thursday.
“It becomes clearer that the president’s so-called stimulus package is nothing more than a sham, wrapped in spin, shrouded in deception,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) charged. “The White House’s plan will add $1.5 trillion to our nation’s debt, while providing no real benefit to most American families.”
In a battle of dueling numbers, Nickles said that under the Senate plan, a family of four with $56,800 in taxable income would save $2,022 under the Jobs and Growth Tax Act of 2003.
With Republicans arguing that Bush’s proposal would especially help elderly taxpayers, Daschle countered that the average senior citizen, who lives on less than $50,000 annually (which is two-thirds of all seniors), will only receive about $87 in tax relief, or “a buck 67 a week.”
Miller dismissed critics who said the proposal would primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans.
“I know you’re going to hear from the shrill class-warfare crowd [but] … this package … will make our tax system fairer,” he said.
Responding to Democrats and some economists alike who have questioned the wisdom of a massive tax cut during an economic downturn with a war looming, Snow said the plan is good long-term policy.
“This is good tax policy. … This is economics that will stand up to scrutiny,” the former CSX chief said.
Nickles said he wants the Senate to pass a budget resolution, which would include the tax cuts, by the statutory deadline of April 15.
Thomas outlined an ambitious timetable as well, announcing that his committee will hold four days of hearings on the proposal, each day focusing on a different component, beginning Tuesday.
March 11, the day of the final hearing, will be a “Members’ day” in which lawmakers can voice their opinions.
While Thomas wants to foster discussion, he made it clear that his job is to a report a bill exactly like the one introduced.
“My job is not to seek alternatives,” he said.