By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - He seems an unlikely guy to stand in the way of President Bush's tax cut: a 66-year-old Republican, a Midwestern senator who supported the president's agenda 96 percent of the time last year.
But Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, is one of a handful of GOP holdouts who probably will force a shrinking of the president's ambitious tax-cut and economic-stimulus plan.
Congress is expected to vote by month's end on a budget plan, which will in turn determine how much of the proposed $726 billion tax cut package backed by the Bush administration survives.
Voinovich supports slicing the tax cut roughly in half. He wants to eliminate the part of the White House proposal that would end taxes on dividends. With record deficits, war, and a slow economy, the federal government can't afford a dividend tax cut, at least not right now, he said.
"I can't remember a time when we ever went to war and cut taxes," Voinovich said Tuesday.
Voinovich considers himself a "deficit hawk," elected to make sure future generations don't get stuck with an outrageous bill from this generation's spending or excessive tax cuts.
"I'm not budging," he said.
Born: July 15, 1936, in Cleveland.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Ohio University, 1958; law degree from Ohio State University, 1961.
Family: Wife, Janet; three children.
Career experience: Ohio state representative; Cuyahoga County auditor; Cuyahoga County commissioner; Ohio lieutenant governor; Cleveland mayor, 1979-88; Ohio governor, 1990-98; U.S. Senate, 1999-present.
On the Web: Web site
Because of opposition from Voinovich and other moderates, Rep. Rob Portman of Terrace Park, House GOP liaison to the White House, said he thinks the tax plan will shrink in some way. But he said he doesn't see repercussions from the White House.
"He has been very supportive of the president on other issues," like Iraq, homeland security and prescription drugs, Portman said.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, generally supports the president's plan.
Voinovich's stand Tuesday earned him praise from the head of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who said Voinovich was publicly saying what many Republicans in Ohio would only mutter privately.
But business groups, conservatives and the administration are trying to sway the former governor to support the full cut.
"We don't understand why any Republican would undermine the president when he offers a powerful proposal to increase economic growth," said David Keating, executive director of the conservative Club for Growth. "If he succeeds in stopping the president's proposal, we think this will hurt him politically, as well as the president and other Republicans running for re-election in 2004."
The Business Roundtable - a group of 150 corporate CEOs - ran an ad in Voinovich's hometown paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, featuring a retiree explaining how the tax cut would help him.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said ending double taxation on dividends is a key part of reviving the economy, arguing that it would create 431,000 new jobs by the end of next year - and help 1.3 million taxpayers in Ohio alone.
The White House sent Treasury Secretary John Snow to Cincinnati March 14 to promote the tax cut's benefits during a speech to the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. Later, at Cincinnati's New England Club retirement community, he met with senior citizens, who explained how the tax would help them.
"That may have been intended to add a little pressure" on Voinovich, said Stephen Mockabee, an assistant political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. "I would be surprised if it did work."
The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported the White House was dispatching cabinet officials to barnstorm states of senators who were wobbly on the tax cut. Voinovich told Roll Call that strategy was a big mistake. Both sides played down any suggestion that the visit was intended to pressure Voinovich.
Voinovich's spokesman, Scott Milburn, said the office has received only a handful of calls about the dividend tax cut, far less than the office is getting about Iraq.
"It doesn't seem like it's registering on people's radar screen," he said.
Voinovich generally has been loyal to Bush. He voted the president's way 95 percent of the time in 2001 and 96 percent of the time last year, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Milburn said Voinovich supports the parts of the tax cut that will put money in people's and business' pockets immediately and thus quickly stimulate the economy.
"His concern with the dividend tax cut is that it's slower to realize benefits for the economy, as well as it's ratcheting up the deficit," Milburn said.
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