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Democrats Hope Tax Fight Will Aid Lincoln

As one of the Democrats’ most endangered incumbents up for re-election in 2004, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) couldn’t have asked for a more fortuitous political opportunity than to be in the middle of the fight over securing a child tax credit for low-income families.

Indeed, Lincoln’s profile automatically grew when news organizations revealed last week that House and Senate GOP tax negotiators nixed her provision to spend $3.5 billion to give low-income families with children a $400 tax rebate check during the conference on the president’s $350 billion tax bill.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said the intense focus on Lincoln’s fight to have her provision restored would definitely boost her re-election efforts.

“Given the demographics in Arkansas, she looks like she’s fighting, and she looks like a hero to those folks,” he said. “It’s a big net positive for her.”

But Republicans dismissed the issue as a boon for Lincoln, and accused her and her fellow Democrats of crassly using the issue for political gain.

“Primarily, the Democrats are using the tax cut as a political issue,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.).

Allen also blamed Democratic opposition to the overall tax cut as a hindrance to getting the full child tax credit in the bill.

“When they say they don’t want a bigger tax cut, they shouldn’t then be surprised about the outcome,” he said.

Republican leaders have defended the exclusion by saying they were attempting to fit the entire Republican tax proposal, including President Bush’s priority of cutting taxes on dividends, into the $350 billion limit demanded by Senate GOP moderates and some Democrats.

But Democrats seized on the omission as a way of furthering their claim that Bush’s tax cuts primarily benefit wealthy taxpayers.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle

(D-S.D.), who spotlighted Lincoln’s involvement in authoring the provision in the Finance Committee at his daily media availability on Wednesday, charged that Republicans made a tactical mistake in cutting the provision.

“What are they thinking?” he said.

Still, Daschle insisted that the political benefit to Lincoln was secondary to the fight to pass a separate measure that would give families with incomes of $10,000 to $26,000 the rebate checks that other child-rearing taxpayers are already guaranteed under the tax-cut bill, which Bush signed into law last week.

“Another tangential benefit is we have a rising young star — a woman — who’s on the Finance Committee and doing a great job and who just happens to be up for re-election,” he said.

But a Senate GOP leadership aide said Lincoln was not likely to get a lot of political mileage out of the issue — especially since she voted against the tax bill on the floor of the Senate after voting for it in the Finance Committee the week before.

“At the end of the day, here’s a candidate who’s against the president on his judges, who’s against the president on his tax cuts, who’s against the president on his prescription drug plan,” said the aide. “One itty-bitty spending program does not heal all the wounds in a state that’s trending Republican.”

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