The Magazine

The Cheney Tax Cut?

The hidden role of the vice president and his staff in Bush's bold plan.

Jan 20, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 18 • By MAJOR GARRETT
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Leaving out the top-bracket tax cut and merely proposing a 50 percent reduction in dividend taxes, team Cheney argued, would not de-fang the Left but would deflate tax-cutting conservatives. And the nasty intramural spat with these same conservatives over the appointment of deficit-hawk Stephen Friedman, the president's new top economic adviser, convinced Cheney that the base needed both reassurance and a rallying cry.

"I'm absolutely sure Cheney was a positive force," said a senior GOP congressional aide. "Whenever we need to drive home the conservative message, we go to Cheney. There is absolutely no payoff for sucking wind and cutting a deal early."

Considering the risks involved, it's mildly amazing that the most important decisions on the stimulus plan were made after the sacking of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and National Economic Council director Larry Lindsey. While it's true Lindsey drew up the list of options for the plan before he left and that many made the final cut (the final draft memo sent to the president on December 30 bore Lindsey's name), the decisive political and policy decisions were made afterward and elsewhere.

Besides Bush and Cheney, Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten played key roles. Administration officials say that Friedman "was along for the ride" and Treasury Secretary-designate John Snow, awaiting Senate confirmation, played no role at all.

Now, Bush and Cheney will sell the package. Bush will, of course, do the heavy lifting on the hustings, while Cheney will keep the conservative base informed and mobilized. For the foreseeable future, senior officials say, Snow and Friedman will play only minor roles in pitching the package to Congress and none at all in trying to close the deal with the public.

So while the media will keep an eye on Snow and Friedman and speak of the new "Bush economic team," the truth is the "team" is even smaller and more centrally located than before. It's almost entirely on one floor of the West Wing.

Major Garrett is a correspondent for the Fox News Channel.