A Tiny Island of Bipartisanship
Jude Wanniski
May 6, 1999


Memo To: Senator Bob Torricelli [D-NJ]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Bipartisanship

I'm sorry I did not get to see you on my visit to Capitol Hill this week, but I did have a nice long discussion with Jamie Fox [Chief of Staff] about the bipartisan tax bill you have been cooking up with Senator Coverdell [R-GA]. It really seems to be the only serious legislation in Congress that isn't written to appeal to partisan tastes. In my "Memo on the Margin" in this space yesterday, I noted how discouraging it was to whiff the atmosphere in Washington on this trip, as it was more poisonous than I had ever found it in the partisan passions that have arisen in the last several months. The impeachment of the President of course set the stage. Now NATO's "war" in Kosovo is further tearing at the veneer of partisan comity. Now, I wouldn't be surprised to see a fistfight break out on the floor of the House one of these days. But even in the depths of the Vietnam War, I recall the same members of Congress who engaged in heated exchanges on the floor getting together for drinks after the day's work.

I did have a long talk with a Republican Senator on Wednesday morning, a man whose time in Washington dates back to the Vietnam days. He told me he had never experienced the level of distrust between the members of the Senate that he sees today. "There is one overriding objective that dominates all discussion," he says. "That is the determination to gain more political power in the 2000 elections -- to win the White House and keep control of the Senate." He told me that is why the GOP Senators have lined up almost unanimously behind George W. Bush and why they are looking for any way they can to embarrass Vice President Gore. He told me he still has felicitous relations with Democratic senators himself, but that the staffs have dug in their partisan heels with deep suspicions on political motivations.

I told him I'd been to a dinner Tuesday night at the National Press Club, with an assemblage honoring young conservative journalists. A conservative columnist I've known for many years came in and I went over to shake his hand. He turned away from me, refusing to even speak to me. I made a second gesture, thinking he would soften, but he brushed my hand away and turned his back on me. I'd written him a critical note about his support of the bombing campaign, you see, and he did not appreciate it. Bob Novak, who was standing nearby, said he had been covering political controversies in Washington for 45 years and never once had he offered his hand and been turned away.

I recalled that in early 1977, a few weeks after the inauguration of President Carter, I had dinner alone with then Congressman Jack Kemp at the Palm. I'd been teaching Jack about supply-side economics during the previous year, just as Art Laffer and Bob Mundell had taught me. Jack saw the political power of the idea and told me he thought it might be a good idea to keep quiet about the idea of cutting income-tax rates that had been swelled by inflation, so the Republicans could run on the issue and recapture the White House in 1980. I told Jack that politics was not like a football game, where the goal is to defeat the other party. The two parties are supposed to work together to find the best course for the American people, I said, and if they did we would all be winners. To put an even finer point on it, I suggested he be as vocal about the merits of the idea as he could. The best thing that could happen would be that President Jimmy Carter would wake up one day and say, "By gosh, that young congressman Kemp has a great idea. I think we should do it now, cut those tax rates." I told Jack that I thought he had the potential to be President of the United States someday, perhaps even if he ran in 1980, but that it would be optimum if Carter took his best ideas and implemented them. "Then you could do what a retired football quarterback normally does: Go back to Buffalo and open a Chevrolet dealership."

You still were in short pants back in those days, Bob, but I can tell you Jack did not waste another day sitting around worrying that the Democrats would steal our supply-side economic ideas and get the credit for them. He immediately was running through enemy lines, crossing over into the Democratic side of the aisle in the House of Representatives, trying to sell the idea that eventually became the Kemp-Roth 30% tax cut that Ronald Reagan rode to the White House in 1980. Jimmy Carter never did embrace the idea and the Democrats treated it with disdain, even to the point of insisting that the Kennedy tax cuts of 1963-64 were not as good as Kemp insisted they were. You should know the Kennedy economists were not happy with the tax-cutting idea anyway, but JFK was persuaded on its merits by West Germany's Finance Minister, Ludwig Erhard, when he went to Berlin in May of 1962.

Anyway, good luck to you. I see you are being criticized by some of your fellow Democrats for straying from the "party line" in working with Paul Coverdell, but as you told The New York Times: "Nobody told me when I joined the Democratic Party that I could not be for lower taxes." Believe me, I will help you in any way I can, and I don't give a darn who gets the credit.