Congress should choose high road on tax package

Friday, April 18, 2003 at 1:00am

With the war in Iraq drawing down, President Bush has started a new campaign. He's trying to use his military success to propel a huge and irresponsible tax cut into law. Now it's up to Congress to rediscover its independence and force the president to make significant compromises.

It won't be easy for the lawmakers to stand up to a popular president, whose job approval rating in the latest New York Times/CBS poll leaped to 73 percent. But they should take heart from another finding: Only 46 percent approve of Bush's handling of the economy.

In short, Bush is two different presidents, powerful on foreign and military matters but decidedly vulnerable on domestic policy. Congress should resist his attempts to stampede them into unwise decisions, and in the weeks before they departed town for a spring recess, the lawmakers displayed some encouraging signs of spunk.

With four Republicans joining a solid Democratic bloc, the Senate passed a budget that limits the president's tax cut proposal to $350 billion, less than half the $726 billion he requested.

Much legislative maneuvering lies ahead, and the president is already exerting enormous pressure on the GOP defectors. But the president now concedes that $550 billion is the best he can get, and there's still a good chance to force an even lower figure.

The president campaigned aggressively for Republicans last fall, and GOP lawmakers owe him a lot

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