WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush was prevailed on by aides two weeks ago to take time out from the war against Saddam Hussein to see Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio. Voinovich, normally a regular Republican, was ruining President Bush's tax plans. Brought down Pennsylvania Ave. to the White House, Voinovich spurned the president's entreaties to support him. Republican operatives in the capital, appalled at the apostasy, cursed the senator.
That same week, Voinovich voted against an unsuccessful Democratic effort to add an extra $1 billion for port security to the emergency appropriations bill funding the war. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSSC), probing for weaknesses in Voinovich's re-election prospects next year, called him too partisan. It accused him of "marching in lockstep with the national Republican leadership" and putting "support for his right-wing party leaders" ahead of constituent interests.
Such a lethal crossfire is the lot of a dying political breed: the deficit hawk, who obsesses on an accounting number as the lodestar of economic well-being. In quest of bipartisanship, Voinovich in fact has simultaneously energized Democrats who want to spend more and antagonized Republicans who want to tax less. While making life unnecessarily difficult for Bush, Voinovich won no gratitude from Democrats who suddenly perceive him as a vulnerable candidate in 2004.
"I consider myself a deficit hawk," Voinovich declared on March 21, embracing Herbert Hoover's strategy of fighting the Great Depression by raising taxes. Dwight D. Eisenhower's priority on balanced budgets killed tax cuts, generated three recessions and ushered in a decade of Democratic dominance. Richard Nixon maintained high taxes in the face of a sluggish economy, and Gerald Ford resisted tax reduction. Not until Ronald Reagan did Republicans cast away Hoover's legacy. Voinovich is a throwback to a bygone ideology of the GOP.
Voinovich is only one of four Republican senators who have forced Bush to resort to parliamentary contortions to permit adoption of his tax cut. Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and, to a much lesser extent, Olympia Snowe of Maine are New England liberals, and Sen. John McCain is a notorious party maverick. But George Voinovich is different, and that is what antagonizes the Republican establishment.