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Gore Musters Party to Fight GOP Tax Cut

By George Hager
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 1998; Page A10

Vice President Gore led a raucous Democratic pep rally on the steps of the Capitol yesterday, blasting a Republican plan to use part of the budget surplus to finance a tax cut and urging Congress to "save Social Security first."

"The American people don't want [Republicans] fooling with Social Security," Gore said. "We need an unbreakable commitment to making this the top priority."

While an $80 billion tax cut plan is headed toward almost certain passage in the House this weekend, Democrats appear to be successfully using the political sword of Social Security to hold down the vote to rob the bill of momentum when it reaches the Senate.

Strategists on both sides now predict that as few as 10 to 20 House Democrats will cross party lines to vote for the GOP-written tax cuts tomorrow. That is far fewer than the 60-plus Democrats the GOP would need to overcome a promised veto by President Clinton, and a smaller number than Republicans and outside backers of the tax bill had hoped for as recently as a week ago.

"If anything, we're beginning to convince [Democrats] that their political interest is more on the side of protecting Social Security" than cutting taxes, said Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), who is involved in the Democratic vote-counting operation.

House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and other GOP leaders fired back later in the day by repeating a GOP assertion that the administration is attempting to dip into the surplus itself for various emergency spending proposals for Bosnia, farm aid, computer fixes and embassy security while opposing using the surplus for a tax cut. "They can't have it both ways," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.)

But White House aides in turn responded that the budget rules permit using the surplus for such emergency spending, but not for the proposed GOP tax cuts.

The GOP tax plan is certain to encounter trouble in the Senate, where budget rules will require hard-to-get super-majority votes, and as many as five or six Republican senators are likely to vote no. Republicans had hoped for a strong push from House Democrats to give the bill a better chance in the Senate.

The election-year struggle over the tax bill offers a stark test of the relative power of the two parties' core political issues. Republicans say their five-year, $80 billion package offers tax relief to married couples, farmers, small investors and others and warn that Democrats will vote against it at their peril.

Democrats charge that the GOP plan to pay for the tax cuts by dipping into the budget surplus generated by Social Security taxes puts the nation's most popular government program at risk, and they accuse Republicans of jeopardizing retiree security.

A few Republicans will oppose the plan. Rep. Mark W. Neumann (R-Wis.) said he will vote against the GOP tax cuts because they spend Social Security funds, adding that many of his colleagues feel extremely uncomfortable about the bill. "We're being put in a position of voting against seniors or against tax cuts," he said.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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