When Congress returns from its summer recess, it will take up two core components of President Bush's second-term domestic agenda: making repeal of the death tax permanent and creating personal retirement accounts. The administration's general position on both issues is well-known - it supports both - but where it stands on the legislative particulars remains a mystery. If the president hopes for legislative success on these two controversial issues, it is time for the White House to forcefully guide its agenda though Congress.
When the Senate returns, it is scheduled to decide whether to shut off a filibuster on a bill that repeals the death tax permanently starting in 2011. (Under the current law the death tax will be repealed for just one year, 2010, before springing back to life at 55 percent in 2011.) The White House continues to state the president's general support for permanent repeal, but it is not clear where the administration stands with respect to the real choice the Senate is facing: Would the administration prefer a compromise - as the "pro-growth" tax-cutting senator from Arizona, Jon Kyl, proposes - that immediately lowers the death tax rate from 47 percent to 15 percent and leaves the tax permanently on the books? Or would it prefer to go for full repeal, which the Democrats will likely block and thereby make it a major issue in the 2006 elections?
Senate Republicans need guidance from the White House because this question is splitting the coalition to kill the death tax. Some former stalwarts of permanent repeal aren't willing to wait any longer for immediate relief. They fear they won't live long enough to see the tax eliminated. They are cool to a long-range strategy to repeal the tax by defeating incumbent senators who oppose repeal. Therefore, they are pushing Senate Republicans hard for a compromise deal right now.