By Peter Savodnik - 03/09/05 12:00 AM EST
The congressman’s comments came on the heels of a Washington Post report contending that Republicans had more or less given up on making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, and they appeared to be designed to dispel anxieties among conservatives that Republicans are abandoning their base.
Pence, one of a handful of members mentioned as a possible successor to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), stressed that making the tax cuts permanent is the Republicans’ No. 1 priority after national security, “particularly in the area of death taxes.” “Death taxes” is many Republicans’ preferred term for estate taxes.
Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Hastert, would not rank Republicans’ legislative priorities, saying only that “providing effective tax relief, simplifying the tax code and reforming Social Security are all significant priorities of congressional Republicans.”
Amy Call, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), also declined to say if Social Security reform or other issues had derailed the effort to keep the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
“If the congressman asserted that Republicans are still committed to cutting taxes, then Senator Frist is still very much committed to cutting taxes, and that’s all I’m going to say about it at this point,” Call said.
Democrats say they will oppose at every step an agenda they contend threatens the country’s long-term fiscal health and fosters deep social, racial and economic divisions.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said Democrats “feel that this budget that we’re going to debate next week is fiscally irresponsible and reflects the wrong priorities.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office did not return calls for comment.
Speaking at a breakfast at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Pence said he had urged GOP leaders not to ignore the conservative “majority of the majority,” which, he said, also favors private Social Security accounts.
“Oftentimes, it is a small and raucous minority [of centrist Republicans] … that tends to be the tail that wags the dog” and threaten conservatives’ “freedom agenda,” Pence said.
On Social Security, the congressman underscored that Republicans would oppose new taxes and raising the cap on eligible income to pay for reform. And he maintained that borrowing $1 trillion to pay for the transition costs of Social Security reform now would save trillions later, an argument made by leading reform proponents such as Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Citing assumptions about deficit-conscious conservatives’ being unwilling to spend the money needed to transform the pension system, the congressman added: “House conservatives are ready to borrow the money.”
Christopher Butler, a spokesman for the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, praised efforts to reform the tax code but stressed that that issue should not get in the way of reducing Americans’ tax burden.
He said that the Bush tax cuts must be preserved and that Republicans should make more savings tax exempt. Also, Butler said, the government should repeal the Spanish-American War telephone tax. “Those are just a few examples of some tax cuts that we’re looking for in the future,” he said.