"The numbers for this cut are based on mandatory spending caps that Congress and the White House put in to get the budget deal done in 1997," Branegan says. "They were just stopgaps. For the Republicans to say that they’ll stick to them for the next 10 years when they’ve already signaled this year that they’re headed out the window is just unrealistic. Any tax cut based on those figures will be unable to be paid for without deep cuts that neither side is willing to make." The White House knows it, the Senate knows it, and judging by the polls –- which still favor Clinton and his mantra of "first things first" (Medicare and education) the public senses it too. Would most Americans like a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut? Sure they would. But they believe Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan and even Clinton when they say 10 percent is too much, and too much is a bad idea. The GOP moderates knew that too. But the party needed a win, and Denny Hastert asked so nicely.
In the end, Republican moderates decided to spare neophyte Speaker Dennis Hastert the embarrassment. In exchange for a hastily scrawled amendment tying the later years of a 10-year, $792 billion tax cut to promised reductions in the national debt, the "Hell no" folks said "What the heck" and climbed aboard a GOP ship that, says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, won’t sail very far anyway. "If Clinton got this as the final bill, he’d veto it," he says. "This is merely an opening gambit for the most ravenous tax-cutters in the party –- Bill Archer & Co. in the House to start negotiating." It’ll be tough. Besides Clinton, who’s the lowballer at $250 billion in cuts, there’s the Senate Republicans, who are zeroing in on $500 billion and have garnered bipartisan support. The House’s number will be the first to get tossed, says Branegan, and for good reason. The moderates were right the first time it is too expensive.