WASHINGTON — Sen. George Voinovich and President Bush will come close enough to shake hands Thursday 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. Earlier 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 and speak on national security.
Voinovich won’t join the president at appearances in Canton or 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.
“The purpose of the president’s travel to Ohio tomorrow is to talk to Ohio constituents, and people who live there, about the need to pass the tax cuts so they can have more growth in the economy,” Fleischer said. “We want to work with everybody who can provide a vote for this package, where a vote is possible. And the president will not be shy about making his case.”
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 Thursday. 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 judgement and vote their conscience.”
Voinovich, a former Cleveland mayor and two-term governor is immensely popular. The University of Cincinnati’s Ohio Poll last month showed him 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 when he runs for re-election in 2004.
The tax battle has divided Republicans. Tax cut supporters will rally outside Voinovich’s Cleveland office Thursday, trying to persuade him to support the president’s $ 550 billion tax cut.
“The Buckeye State wants to send a message to Senator Voinovich that it is critical to get real tax relief through the Senate,” said Paul Becker, president of the anti-tax Citizens for a Sound Economy, one of the rally organizers.
Another conservative group, the Club for Growth, is running TV ads in Columbus this week accusing Voinovich of disloyalty to Bush akin to France’s disloyalty to the United States during the Iraq war.
“It’s really unfortunate these groups would sink to such a low as to call into question the senator’s patriotism,” said Jason Mauk, spokesman for the Ohio State Republican Party.
While it condemns the ads, the Ohio State GOP and its chairman Bob Bennett are doing their best to stay out of the tax cut fight entirely.
“The chairman supports both the president and Senator Voinovich,” Mauk said.