You'd be surprised at how knocked on their heels Senate Dems have been acting for the last couple weeks while they've been waiting for Bush to send up his tax bill. But today's news that Senators Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe and Linc Chafee want to scale back the president's $1.6 trillion tax cut should let them all breathe a big sigh of relief.
(Keep in mind that Jeffords and Snowe are both close to John Breaux (D) and he may be a force behind this.)
Each of the three announced their opposition to Bush's bill in its current form with rationales quite similar, at least in their outlines, to the ones Democrats have been making: not enough left for domestic priorities, not enough help to those who need it most, too reckless in assuming those future surpluses will arrive.
Yet the real issue, the real dividing line, may be less over the size of the cut than over its structure. One thing that's left Dems struggling over recent weeks is a flood of polling data (some of which the Dems' commissioned for themselves and heard at their caucus meeting last week) all showing the same conclusion: Bush's campaign trail critique of Gore's targeted tax cut plan - that it 'picked and choosed' who would get a tax cut - was very effective. (Simply paying down the debt also no longer seems an effective argument against tax cuts.)
That's left Dems without one of their key tax policy weapons - Clintonite targeted tax cuts. So they've been trying to come up with ways of crafting an 'across the board' tax cut which doesn't play with marginal rates. The key in every case is giving everyone the same size cut (or close to it), but in dollar terms, not percentage terms -- which is much more progressive (and, yes, vastly more honest).
The best idea making the rounds is to give a rebate on payroll taxes out of your income tax. So say, for instance, that everyone gets to deduct a percentage of their payroll taxes from their income tax. That's across-the-board (everyone gets it) but it focuses the benefit on middle and lower income families, not the very wealthy, like Bush's plan.
Some of them are even catching on to the idea of pitching this as eliminating the 'work penalty' - like this article said a few years back.
P.S. Wow. That was pretty earnest, wasn't it? Next we'll do some pictures.