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DOLE SETS A TAX-CUT TRAP

12:00 AM, Sep 2, 1996 • By FRED BARNES
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The result of all this is that Clinton has taken the bait on taxes. By attacking Dole's plan, he has created a new fault line in the campaign: One party is for cutting taxes, the other isn't. It's change versus the status quo. That's the view of Dole strategists, anyway. Clintonites claim they haven't slipped inadvertently into full-blown criticism of Dole's tax cut. It's where they want to be, since they insist the tax issue helps Clinton, not Dole.


In pushing a big tax cut, "I think they're making a huge error," says Stephanopoulos. Dole, famous as a deficit hawk, ruins his credibility by suddenly embracing tax cuts, according to Stephanopoulos. He's a hypocrite. But it's worse for Dole if people believe he really will cut taxes. Then, Stephanopoulos says, they'll fear a bloated deficit or deep new cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that the Dole tax cut would require.


The Clintonites don't really sound all that confident the tax debate will play out their way. "Instinctively," McCurry says, "the American people love Bob Dole's tax cut, but in their hearts they know they won't get it. It's a chicken in every pot." Stephanopoulos qualifies his insistence that the tax issue aids Clinton: "As long as it's our tax cut versus their tax cut and not their tax cut versus our pain, then the president gains." That's a big "if."


Clinton belabors the same point. "I am for a tax cut," he declared August 18 in a 60 Minutes interview. "But it's targeted to the middle class. It's targeted to education and to childbearing." So is the tax relief for small business that was tied to the increase in the minimum wage. And in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Clinton is expected to announce tax breaks for inner-city job development.


The trouble is Clinton's tax cuts appear insignificant compared with Dole's. And Trusting the People, the Dole book, casts the Clinton approach as entirely inadequate to cope with current economic problems. The book cheerleads for big tax cuts. It defends supply-side economics and the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s, and argues that only the Dole plan is broad and sweeping enough to spur stronger economic growth and end wage stagnation for middle-class workers. Clintonites are sure to disagree. No doubt they'll tell us why.



by Fred Barnes