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The Bush II agenda takes shape

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Senate Democrats have blocked ten Bush appeals court nominees with filibusters, preventing up or down floor votes for confirmation. Many conservatives view this as as unfair, and it may have contributed to the defeat of Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, an architect of the filibusters.

But not all Republicans are thrilled with the prospect of all-out warfare in the Senate over judicial appointments. Sen. Arlen Specter, expected to become the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has warned the president against naming nominees who might be too conservative to win broad Senate support.

The issue takes on a new sense of urgency amid reports earlier this week that Chief Justice William Rehnquist's recently disclosed battle with cancer may be more serious than initially thought. A Rehnquist retirement would raise two issues. First, who should become the next chief justice? And second, if the new chief justice is selected from among the existing justices, who from outside should join the court?

Since Rehnquist is a solid member of the court's conservative wing, his departure and replacement with even a Rehnquist clone would not threaten to undermine landmark liberal precedents on abortion, affirmative action, and gay rights, among others. But his replacement by someone who is more moderate than Rehnquist could jeopardize landmark rulings important to conservatives, such as the recent 5-4 federalism decisions reasserting sovereign state power in the face of federal encroachment. If the White House seeks to protect such conservative rulings, the stage may thus be set for major nomination battles in the Senate.

TAXES

President Bush talks of tax reform, especially the popular idea of tax simplification. Getting any such bill through Congress, though, will be hard, despite enlarged GOP majorities in both houses.

President Reagan managed to get a widely praised tax simplification measure passed in 1986. But Reagan sweetened the legislation by including personal income tax cuts, especially large for upper income people, recalls Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute in Washington.

Bush said Thursday that he wanted tax simplification to be revenue neutral. The revenue costs of the Reagan cuts, with the same goal in mind, were offset by higher taxes on business. But corporate executives, seeing their personal taxes slashed, went along with the reform bill.

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