Agenda fac­ing early crit­i­cism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

When the Democrats cam­paigned to take over Congress, they ben­e­fited from a tidal wave of po­lit­i­cal anger aimed at the Repub­li­cans in charge for the last 12 years.

But as the Democrats pre­pare to take con­trol of the House and Se­nate, their leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als in the spot­light, draw­ing much closer crit­i­cal scru­tiny than they did in this year’s elec­tion. One top Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal strate­gist told me, “They are the ones who are in trou­ble now.”

The Democrats won’t as­sume power un­til Jan­uary, but their pro­pos­als to pull out of Iraq, slap a higher min­i­mum wage on small busi­nesses and raise taxes, in­clud­ing the tax on div­i­dends and cap­i­tal gains, are al­ready tak­ing hits.

In some cases, the crit­i­cism is com­ing from peo­ple who were among the Repub­li­cans’ sever­est crit­ics. Peo­ple like re­tired Gen. An­thony C. Zinni, the for­mer head of the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, who called for De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald Rums­feld’s res­ig­na­tion and has been a critic of the con­duct of the war. Gen. Zinni thinks the Democrats’ pro­posal to be­gin with­draw­ing troops from Iraq within four to six months would be a dis­as­ter.

The Democrats’ rea­son­ing be­hind their plan, if you can call it a plan, is that the prospect of troop with­drawal would put pres­sure on Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki to take more ag­gres­sive steps to com­bat the ter­ror­ists and end the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence there.

“Well, you can’t put pres­sure on a wounded guy,” Gen. Zinni told the New York Times two weeks ago. “There is a premise that the Iraqis are not do­ing enough now, that there is a ca­pa­bil­ity that they have not em­ployed or used. I am not so sure they are ca­pa­ble of stop­ping sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.”

In­deed, he thinks it makes more sense to in­crease U.S. troop strength, as Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain has pro­posed, to “re­gain mo­men­tum” as part of a com­pre­hen­sive ef­fort to sta­bi­lize Iraq, build its econ­omy and its se­cu­rity forces.

Gen. Zinni is not the only one crit­i­ciz­ing the troop-with­drawal plan de­vised by Demo­cratic Sen. Carl Levin, the in­com­ing chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, which would send the pro­posal to the Se­nate floor early next year. Re­tired two-star Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who com­manded a di­vi­sion in Iraq and who had also called for Mr. Rums­feld’s res­ig­na­tion, said the idea was “ter­ri­bly naive.” “There are lots of things that have to hap­pen to set them up for suc­cess,” Gen. Batiste said. “Un­til they hap­pen, it does not mat­ter what we tell Ma­liki.”

Ken­neth Pol­lack, a de­fense an­a­lyst at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and a for­mer na­tional-se­cu­rity ad­viser in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, told the Times that if Mr. Levin’s plan were put into ef­fect, it would re­sult in “the even­tu­al­ity of civil war to­mor­row.”

That view was fur­ther un­der­scored in Se­nate tes­ti­mony two weeks ago by Gen. John P. Abizaid, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary com­man­der for the Mid­dle East, who said with­drawal would in­crease sec­tar­ian killings and un­der­mine Iraq’s abil­ity to pro­vide for its own se­cu­rity.

One ma­jor Demo­cratic cam­paign prom­ise is to raise the fed­eral min­i­mum wage to more than $7 an hour. But small-busi­ness lob­bies are al­ready gear­ing up to bat­tle the pro­posal they say would hurt smaller en­ter­prises that have been the en­gine of U.S. job growth. This would be a job killer, plain and sim­ple. If it be­came law, mil­lions of small busi­nesses would find ways to trim their em­ploy­ment force, re- duc­ing the en­try-level jobs that are crit­i­cal to help­ing peo­ple get on the first rung of the eco­nomic lad­der.

The busi­nesses most se­verely hurt would be the younger star­tups still strug­gling to get es­tab­lished and that have not built up their pay­roll ca­pac­ity to the much higher lev­els the Democrats would man­date by leg­isla­tive fiat.

Econ­o­mist John Co­gan at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion said, “This would hurt small busi­nesses, es­pe­cially in the South” where wages tend to be lower than in other re­gions. But Mr. Co­gan thinks the Democrats’ plan would face nu­mer­ous hur­dles in Congress and very pos­si­bly from Democrats them­selves, par­tic­u­larly in the Se­nate. “There will be Democrats who don’t want to stick it to small busi­ness,” Mr. Co­gan told me.

Democrats also hope to re­peal the cap­i­tal-gains and stock-div­i­dend tax cuts that Repub­li­cans passed and Pres­i­dent Bush signed into law, re­forms that un­locked needed ven­ture-cap­i­tal in­vest­ment that cre­ated jobs, lifted the stock mar­ket to record lev­els and boosted worker pen­sion wealth.

Hun­dreds of com­pa­nies have be­gun of­fer­ing div­i­dends as a re­sult of the GOP’s pro-growth ini­tia­tive, and the lower tax rate on cap­i­tal gains has made it more prof­itable to sell stock, spawn­ing in­creased tax rev­enue that helped shrink federaland state-bud­get deficits.

If Democrats vote to raise taxes on cap­i­tal gains and div­i­dends, they will en­counter fierce op­po­si­tion from two pow­er­ful con­stituen­cies, many of whom voted for them on Nov. 7: Mil­lions of re­tirees and those soon to re­tire who de­pend on a life­time of stock in­vest­ments for their in­come; and the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try and in­vestors who have plowed larger cap­i­tal gains into new in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, boost­ing the na­tion’s econ­omy in the process.

The Democrats’ cam­paign mantra that it’s time for a change ap­par­ently ap­pealed to many dis­sat­is­fied Amer­i­cans. But once th­ese vot­ers learn the fine print in the Democrats’ plans, many may be­gin to think this wasn’t the change they had in mind.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.