GOP Retreats on Tax Cuts

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WASHINGTON: As if post-impeachment Washington weren't minutiae-drenched enough, congressional Republicans are beating a hasty retreat on their last hot-button issue: the 10 percent across-the-board tax cut. "The Republicans are a very insecure party right now, and they're afraid of getting hammered by the Democrats on a tax cut that would most benefit the rich," says TIME congressional correspondent Jay Carney. That shrinks the 2000 budget battleground to competing plans for Medicare, Social Security and education -- issues on which the Democrats largely own the public ear -- and puts the GOP in a very conciliatory stance for the six months until the 2000 election season kicks in.

"With such a slim majority in the House," says Carney, "they can't risk losing on anything right now." And down the road? For GOP 2000 candidates such as deficit-hawk-turned-tax-cutter John Kasich, the strategic white flag has a bright side: If the 10 percent cut actually got passed, what would they run on -- morals? On the other hand, they're also suddenly candidates without a party. "Kasich wanted to run as a new-generation leader," says Carney, "but a leader needs followers." And the followers are scurrying for the high ground.