Vroom! Vroom! GOP Tax-Cut Plan Revs Up

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The GOP's drive for a massive $864 billion tax cut has hit the road. House Republicans have pushed what would be the second largest such cut in history — to go with the largest federal budget surplus in memory — through the House Ways and Means Committee by a party-line 23-13 vote. While GOPers crowed that there was more than enough surplus to go around, Democrats immediately set to complaining that the "house of cards" plan would not only imperil Medicare and education, it would actually throw the budget back into the red a decade down the road. The math gets complicated Ė- the GOP plan requires, probably unrealistically, that the 1997 budget dealís caps on domestic spending be honored — but TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan says it hardly matters. Even if the bill made it to the White House, he says, "Clinton would veto it."

"This has to be looked at as less a piece of legislation than a bargaining tool," he says. "Broad tax cuts are the GOPís last real signature issue, and this is getting moved through as much for internal party reasons as for any hope that it will actually succeed. Itís supposed to rally the troops." Itís had that effect on the Democrats, who have joined Clinton in standing against the cuts on three rationales, all proven political winners: First, in todayís booming economy, it isnít necessary; second, it endangers Medicare and education, near-sacred cows when it comes to voters; third, it will benefit the rich most of all. The more realistic business is going on in the Senate, where Republicans have found some Democratic support for a middle-class cut thatís a bit larger and broader than the $250 billion in laser-focused cuts that the White House has in mind. What figure theyíll end up with, says Branegan, is impossible to tell. But it wonít be anywhere near $864 billion.