Sunday, August 08, 1999

Voinovich voted his own way on tax cut

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If you've already spent your share of the $792 billion Republican tax cut and were bent out of shape when Ohio's junior U.S. senator, Republican George Voinovich, voted against it, all we can say is chill. What did you expect?

        Yes, Mr. Voinovich is a Republican, and, yes, he is a conservative. But if Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott thought that when Mr. Voinovich joined the exclusive Capitol Hill club seven months ago that Ohio's new senator would march lockstep with the Republican leadership, he should have been reading the papers in Ohio for the last 20 years or so.

        This boy's a free agent. Always has been. Always will be.

        In seven short months, the former Ohio governor has compiled a fairly long list of issues on which he has parted ways with the Republican leadership in the Senate.

        The GOP leadership didn't want another round of military base closings. Mr. Voinovich did. The GOP leadership wanted extended funding for the war against Yugoslavia. Not George.

        But the vote that must have really fried Trent Lott came last week, when Mr. Voinovich was one of only four Republican senators to vote against the GOP's $792 billion tax cut plan, a plan President Clinton will surely veto.

        It wasn't just that he voted against it; it was the way he did it.

        Mr. Lott knew the vote was going to be close and needed every vote he could get. The three other senators — Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — gave Mr. Lott a break. In the roll call, they passed each time their names were read until it was clear the tax cut plan had enough votes to pass; then, and only then, did they cast their no votes.

        Not our boy, though. When the clerk called Mr. Voinovich, Ohio's junior senator hopped up on his hind legs and gave a great big no, first time around.

        Surely, Mr. Lott must have wanted to pinch his head.

        Mr. Voinovich did not vote this way to be petulant or perverse or because he secretly longs to see Trent Lott live in a rubber room. And he did not do it because he is a closet Democrat.

        After eight years in the Ohio governor's mansion, Mr. Voinovich had a much-documented and well-deserved reputation as a most parsimonious fellow, a penny-pincher of the first order in personal affairs.

        If you were ever to find yourself walking down the street with him and you spot ted a quarter in the gutter, the only prudent thing to do would be to get out of his way.

        We could well imagine that reports of penny shortages in the American marketplace are popping up because Mr. Voinovich has buried metal drums full of them in a salt mine under Lake Erie.

        And, as governor, no one ever accused him of being a tax-cutter; his Democratic opponents in the statehouse — along with critics inside the Republican Party — made great sport of beating him over the head with tax increases he had supported or cooked up himself.

        But while the standard Republican line on what to do with the huge surplus that is supposed to materialize over the next 10 years is to give it back to the people who sent it to Washington in the first place, Mr. Voinovich has other priorities. He would rather see surplus money spent to pay down the national debt. Once that's done, we can start talking about cutting taxes.

        So, what happened last week was that Ohioans got the same vote they would have gotten had they elected the Democrat, Mary Boyle, last fall instead of George Voinovich, the Republican.

        And, if they are surprised by that, they just haven't been paying attention.

        Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at

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