Early tax reform?

Robert Novak

1/1/2005 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

 WASHINGTON -- While President Bush always has planned not to tackle tax reform until 2006 after the Social Security change is passed, the most influential tax drafter in Congress has been quietly planning to put Social Security and tax reform together.
Rep. Bill Thomas of California, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been working with fellow Republicans on his committee to combine the two massive reforms. Thomas keeps secret the details of his plan, but colleagues say it is a workable concept. The conventional wisdom has been that Social Security and tax reform are such complicated and difficult questions that they must be approached separately.

 The White House until now has been kept in the dark on the project. The first that top Bush aides heard of Thomas's plan was when he revealed his intentions in an interview on CNN's "Capital Gang" Dec. 18.


 Republican members of Congress will try to annul the $1.3 million annual pension for life that Franklin D. Raines is to receive after resigning under a cloud as chairman of the giant Fannie Mae home mortgage company.

 Raines made few friends on the Republican side of the aisle when he was President Clinton's budget director. Now, they are unlikely to give him the benefit of the doubt in the Fannie Mae accounting scandal.

 Raines and his lawyers contend he is eligible for the massive pension because he resigned. However, his congressional critics maintain he was forced out by the government-backed company's board of directors, therefore, losing pension rights.


 The decision by veteran political operative Ann Lewis to leave a senior staff position at the Democratic National Committee to work for Sen. Hillary Clinton is widely regarded in party circles as an early preparation for the 2008 presidential campaign.

 Lewis says her shift has nothing to do with presidential politics and she will work on Clinton's 2006 re-election campaign in New York just as she helped her get elected to the Senate in 2000. However, Lewis is one of the most experienced Democratic party workers with contacts all over the country.

 A footnote: Clinton's hard-line position on immigration suggests she is edging toward the middle in preparation for a possible presidential run. The trick is for her to keep her liberal base for the New York re-election campaign.


 Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard has not yet decided to wage an all-out campaign to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), but he has support from three important governors: Mark Warner of Virginia, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan.

 Where the governors will go is complicated by the alliance of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in the quest for a new party chairman.

 In the meantime, many of the 447 DNC members are not happy about the intervention of governors and congressional leaders. They are anxious to make their own choice this time after Bill Clinton, in his closing days as president, dictated the selection of his fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, as chairman four years ago.


 Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas is clearly interested in the Republican presidential nomination for 2008, running as the candidate of social conservatives.

 Brownback, who came to the House as part of the 1994 Republican takeover, was elected to Robert J. Dole's Senate seat in 1996 despite Dole's opposition. He has been a leader on the stem-cell research question, as well as other social issues.

 Two other sitting Republican senators -- Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and George Allen of Virginia -- are also possible presidential contenders. Frist has announced he will not seek a third term in 2006.