WASHINGTON -- Ari Fleischer has the good sense to smile a lot. His boss is about to be come president, and he is about to become White House press secretary. So Fleischer is in a position to look with a beatific expression at the goings on in Washington -- he is in the catbird seat.
What's more, the tables are turning. Democrats were able to mold public opinion so that the party that opposed the president (that is, the Republican Party) was considered obstructionist and partisan, in the worst sense of the words.
Now, if the Democrats play rough with the new president, they'll look like poor sports. Breaks my heart.
"We can't get rid of partisanship," Fleischer noted at a transition-team media briefing, as he discussed how President-elect George W. Bush plans to win support for his agenda, but Washington could "tone it down."
Can Washington tone it down?
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., believes the answer is yes. As the new Vice Chair of the moderate Demo group, the Democratic Leadership Council, Tauscher believes that moderates didn't go to Washington so that they can boast to the folks back home, "I stopped them. I didn't want to play." Moderates want to accomplish goals, she said.
Opportunity knocks. Bush wants to return a big chunk of the expected surplus over the next 10 years to taxpayers. He believes the surplus belongs to earners, not the government, and that everyone who pays taxes -- richies included -- should get some back. Besides, the more money Washington has, the more it will spend.
Tauscher supports a tax cut, too. What divides Bush from moderate Dems like E.T. is how they would each answer the big questions: How much? And who gets it?
On the latter issue, President Clinton and Vice President Gore were very clear in their belief that only select people deserved some of their money back. They advocated "targeted" cuts for people who engage in approved behavior, such as saving for college. That is, "targeted" means there is a tax cut, but I don't get it and you probably don't get it either.
Tauscher defends the targeted approach. For one thing, the surplus may not meet projections five years out. Targeted, after all, is another word for puny. Promise a puny cut, and you won't break the bank.
Where to compromise?
Tauscher is exploring a "triggered" tax cut. Sounds like targeted, but a "triggered" cut would kick in only if the surplus reaches a certain amount. If an economic down turn creates a revenue shortfall, or if Washington increases spending too much, Washington won't be able to further reduce taxes.
Fleischer's reaction? "What's their trigger?" He was not dismissive. Give him some numbers, he said, and he can provide a response. But a Tauscher aide explained that the idea is "in concept form at this point." There are no hard numbers.
The "trigger" should appeal to anti-tax groups as well.
Republicans have hardly been skinflints during the Clinton years -- or the Bush-the-Elder years, for that matter. A trigger provision might give them the backbone to live by GOP rhetoric and push for fiscal restraint. A trigger also could give Bush the means to push for a bigger cut. If taxes didn't fall unless the money was in hand, how could Democrats oppose a big cut?
D.C. is not without rancor. Democrats grumble about the inconvenience of road blocks and scaffolding. The occasional car sports a bumper sticker with Dubya's face. "He's not my president," it reads.
Partisans can bicker, but other people came to Washington to do a job.