Thursday, April 24, 2003

Ohio GOP senator stands firm as block to Bush cut

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Sen. George Voinovich and President Bush will come close enough to shake hands today in Dayton, but they'll still be $200 billion apart.

The two Republicans are at odds over how large a tax cut Congress should pass. Bush originally wanted a $726 billion tax cut over 10 years. This month, Voinovich and other moderate Republicans, worried about endless deficits, struck a deal with Senate leaders to keep Bush's proposed tax cut to $350 billion.

Bush will push for a tax cut of at least $550 billion when he stumps at The Timken Co.'s research facility in North Canton. He also will tour the Lima Army Tank Plant.

Voinovich won't join the president at the appearances in Canton and Lima and won't change his opposition to the larger tax cut Bush wants, his spokesman said Wednesday.

But in a late adjustment to the president's schedule, Voinovich will greet Bush when Air Force One lands at Dayton's Wright Patterson Air Force Base between the stops in North Canton and Lima.

"The senator's going to welcome him to Ohio," said Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn. He said Voinovich would have joined Bush at the other events if he hadn't previously scheduled meetings with veterans in Dayton.

"The senator thinks it's great he's in Ohio pushing his economic plan. The economy needs a boost," he said. "Pressure or no pressure, it's still the right thing to do."

The White House insists that the trip to Ohio, Bush's ninth, is not meant to pressure Voinovich. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president is simply taking his tax cut message to ordinary Ohioans in preparation for Congress' return from spring recess next week.

Voinovich's stance has not changed and won't change, Milburn said. Any tax cut over $350 billion will have to be paid for and not added to the deficit, he said. That means cutting spending or closing tax loopholes.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who supports the president's latest tax cut plan, will join Bush today. But he said he didn't expect the trip to change Voinovich's mind.

"I've known George Voinovich for a long time. George is a man of great conviction. He feels very strongly about this issue. It's a matter of principle for him. It's a matter of conscience. I fully respect that," he said. "I think Ohioans expect someone to go to Washington and exercise their best judgment and vote their conscience."

The University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll last month showed Voinovich trouncing any of the Democrats who have suggested they might run against him next year.

Eric Rademacher, director of the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research, said Ohioans are increasingly concerned about the economy. The issue will play a role not only in what tax cuts Bush can get, but even whether he can win Ohio again in 2004.

The tax battle has divided Republicans. Tax cut supporters say they will rally outside Voinovich's Cleveland office today, trying to persuade him to support the president's $550 billion tax cut.

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