George Voinovich, both a two-term senator and governor of Ohio, died June 12. Voinovich was an extremely popular governor known primarily for his fiscal discipline. Many of the remembrances of the Ohio politician have praised him for standing against his Republican allies and opposing the 2003 tax cuts proposed by George W. Bush. Lost in some of the discussion is that Voinovich was a supporter of the far larger 2001 tax cut legislation and that other Republicans did much more to try to derail Bush's plans.
In 2003 President Bush pushed for a second round of major tax cut legislation. The Republican Party had scored victories in the 2002 midterm elections, flipping the Senate back to its control. With individual tax rates slashed by his 2001 tax plan, the president wanted to lower tax rates on dividends and capital gains. It was classic supply-side orthodoxy, based on the premise that lower taxes would free up more investment. Bush originally advanced a plan that would cut taxes by $700 billion over 10 years, but the House-passed bill was for only $550 billion. Not even that amount was acceptable to some in the Senate.
Voinovich, joined by Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe, Lincoln Chafee, and John McCain, wouldn't even accept that. McCain and Chafee were opposed to any tax cuts at all (the Arizona senator was not much of an ally to Bush during his first term). Snowe and Voinovich would support a tax plan, but only if it were more limited than even the House bill. The Senate managed to pass a $350 billion plan on a 51-49 vote.
The White House and conservative groups were furious. The Club for Growth even began running ads in Ohio attacking Voinovich. The senator wouldn't budge. Ultimately, the White House gave up and accepted the $350 billion Senate plan. The final conference's Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 passed the Senate only because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote. Voinovich voted yea, but Snowe, Chafee, and McCain all voted against it (two Democratic senators, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted for the bill). Voinovich took a stand against the bill, but the only reason his opposition received major press attention is that he was closer to being on the fence than Snowe, Chafee, and McCain, all of whom were far more consistent in their opposition than the former governor.
In 2001, with the Senate evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Bush pushed for a far larger tax cut. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 cut taxes by $1.35 trillion over 10 years. Voinovich might have pushed privately for more restraint, but publicly he was a supporter. EGTRRA passed the Senate easily, 58 to 33. McCain and Chafee both voted against it, but there was widespread Democratic support.
Voinovich was undoubtedly a deficit hawk and even acquired a reputation for being fiscally austere in his private life (some might say cheap). But his opposition to Bush's tax plans is a little overblown (and perhaps inflated because he briefly opposed extension of the tax cuts in 2010, his last year in office). He was a supporter of the larger tax cut in 2001, and it was only because of his vote in 2003 that any tax cut was possible at all. He insisted on scaling back a $550 billion cut to $350 billion, but Chafee and McCain would probably call Voinovich a proponent of tax cuts, not the opponent that the ledes of many stories over the last few days make him out to be.