President Bush is quoted in The New York Times as having told Bob Packwood, the ranking Republican on Senate Finance: "I've given up so much already, I don't want to give up any more." As I read the line, a picture flashed into my mind of the President, stark naked except for his socks, standing in the Oval Office, talking to Packwood on the telephone.
At this midday Monday moment, it seems the President is about to throw in his socks, giving the congressional Democrats everything but the smallest of fig leaves in his humiliating quest for a Budget Agreement. About the only item of disagreement left is whether the rich rich will get hit with a surtax or strict limitations on deductions. The President's chief strategist in this high stakes game of strip poker, Richard Darman, has now given away the top income tax rate in exchange for nothing at all.
Perhaps the only hope now is that the Deal is being made so "fair" in the House-Senate conference in order to attract liberal House Democrats, that it may be stopped in the Senate. At least that's the view of House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. The White House was surprised at the difficulty it had in getting its "preferred" Deal through the Senate last week, with several Senators indicating they would balk if the conference bill leaned toward the House's Robin Hood version. Packwood himself may finally gag at what he's being asked to swallow by George Mitchell and George Bush.
Yesterday's TV talk shows revealed how incredible the relentless collapse of the White House negotiating position seems even to the Democrats. There remains a suspicion among some liberals that it is all too good to be true, that perhaps it is the President who has led the Democrat leadership down this long, garden path. Senate Majority Leader Mitchell and House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt were both asked if the President was not fixing more and more firmly in the public's mind that the tax-increase schemes are being shoved down his throat by the Democrats, and at the last minute --with 10 days to the elections --he might denounce them and the whole process. Mitchell, his whole demeanor reeking with contempt for the negotiating skills of the White House team, dismissed the idea as being ridiculous. He all as much said that there is nobody in the White House smart enough to devise such a strategy. Both he and Gephardt pointed out that it was in fact the President who last July advised the American people (in a statement drafted by Darman) that taxes would have to go up.
We must assume the worst, that it is an anti-growth bill worthy of Carter, Mondale and Dukakis that the President will sign after another shameless exhibition in the Senate, as the White House lobbies for a deal at any price. Every one of the supply-siders I talked to this morning on Capitol Hill had given up hope for this Congress. The GOP growth forces are already talking bravely about renewing the fight for capital gains in January, in the midst of recession. I can't see how the odds will improve that much, unless there are wholesale changes in the White House negotiating team. Darman certainly must go. He can justifiably take all the blame because, in wanting all the control and all of the credit, he cut everyone else out of the action. He never had any friends. Now, he has no admirers. In these dismal days, I can only cheer myself up by contemplating his departure.