Democrats Fume About Nethercutt’s Legislation

Posted June 15, 2004 at 6:23pm

Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) has ramped up his legislative activity since deciding to challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D) for her Senate seat, but some recent efforts have his Democratic colleagues crying “thief.”

Murray and Nethercutt have traded barbs over who was stealing who’s thunder several times already, most notably about some federal pork aimed at creating a mad cow testing center in the Evergreen State.

But now some of his fellow House Members feel he is stealing their signature initiatives.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) has been trying for years to convince Congress to allow citizens to deduct state sales taxes from their federal taxes.

The tax code currently allows people to deduct their state income taxes but because some states, such as Washington, do not impose one, their residents are at a financial disadvantage, he has argued.

“It’s been one of Brian’s number one issues for a number of years,” Baird spokesman Matthew Beck said.

But if the new deduction comes to pass, Nethercutt will attempt to take all the credit for it, Beck predicted.

Nethercutt’s Congressional office wasted no time in touting the news that the provision recently was included in a major tax bill working its way through Congress.

He cited his work with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and other Republicans to make it happen.

He did not praise Baird.

“Nethercutt had been relatively quiet in helping Baird get it attached to legislation in the past,” Beck said.

Alex Conant, Nethercutt’s campaign spokesman, said charges that Nethercutt is a “Johnny come lately” to the issue is absurd.

“George has been working on the sales tax issue just as long as Baird has,” Conant said.

He then distributed a “time line” on the issue, showing Nethercutt’s involvement dating back to 2001.

“While the timing is great politically … it also makes sense to attach it to” the pending tax bill, Conant said, brushing aside the allegation that Nethercutt is winning special favors from the House leadership because of his Senate bid.

If Baird is sore, perhaps Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) should be downright livid.

Nethercutt is working on an alternative to Larsen’s “Wild Sky” bill.

Both Members want to establish a 106,000-acre national forest in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, but Nethercutt said Larsen’s version was dead because it contained provisions House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) did not like.

Nethercutt has gotten on board with environmentalists and said he thinks he can deliver the Wild Sky Wilderness area before the end of the 108th Congress.

The catch is, Nethercutt was not interested in the proposal when Larsen and Murray first introduced companion legislation in the House and Senate in 2000, according to people familiar with the legislation’s history.

Murray’s version passed the Senate seven months ago.

Wild Sky is not in Nethercutt’s Spokane-based district, so Nethercutt had “no reason” to take a stand on it prior to his run for statewide office, Conant said.

Nethercutt’s bill will ultimately be very similar to Larsen’s but will drop the provisions Pombo objects to, Conant said.

“He was not going to sign off on dead legislation,” Conant said.

The Everett Herald recently warned Nethercutt not to “undercut” the Wild Sky bill.

“But if major changes, like a significant scaling back of the 106,000-acre proposal, are what Nethercutt has in mind, he’ll just be getting in the way of a good proposal,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “Wild Sky is an important legacy to leave to future generations. Its fate shouldn’t hang on the whims of a political campaign.”