The Plank

Cheney As President

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The Washington Post continues its excellent Dick Cheney series today with a look at, among other things, the vice president's role in shaping tax policy. The only problem is that reporters Jo Becker's and Barton Gellman's big-picutre conclusions sometimes don't match the excellent reporting. For instance, as part of a key early paragraph, Becker and Gellman write:

"The president is 'the decider,' as Bush puts it, but the vice president often serves up his menu of choices."

Unfortunately the story they have just told completely undermines this thesis. In short:

The president had accepted Cheney's diagnosis that the sluggish economy needed a jolt, overruling senior economic advisers who forecast dangerous budget deficits. But Bush rejected one of Cheney's remedies: deep reductions in the capital gains tax on investments.The vice president "was just hot on that," said Cesar Conda, then Cheney's domestic policy adviser. "It goes to show you: He wins and he loses, and he lost on that one."Not for long.As the Republican lawmakers debated in a closed-door session at the Greenbrier resort, the vice president revived the argument, touting his idea as a way to energize a stock market battered by scandals such as Enron. House allies inserted Cheney's cut into their package. But that came at the expense of one of Bush's priorities: abolishing the tax on stock dividends.

Later we learn that the president quietly went along with the change. This doesn't sound like Cheney is just "serving up" options.

Finally, Becker and Gellman go to great pains to show that the veep sometimes loses out in administration disputes, but they have trouble proving it. Apparently Cheney had concerns about No Child Left Behind and the Medicare expansion, but accepted that they were politically important. It's hard to argue that this is the same thing as "losing" a policy argument.

Still, it's a great series and worth reading in full.

--Isaac Chotiner

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