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Inslee: bipartisanship or elseThe Democrat says a divided House could see legislation mire.
"In the long run, the loser in the presidential election may be the environment, says Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Bainbridge Island).With the president and vice president both coming from an industry (oil) that has not been in the forefront on environmental issues, we won't see leadership from the White House on issues like global warming, Inslee said.After a short ski vacation in eastern Washington, the third-term congressman (he served an earlier term in the 4th District) met with his staff Thursday on legislative strategies for the upcoming term.The issues that will occupy Congress, Inslee said, will be taxes, education and health care. In all of those area, he thinks some action will occur.I expect some relief from the marriage penalty, he said, referring to provisions of the income tax code that can sometimes require a married couple, both of whom are working, to pay more in income taxes than they would if they were unmarried.And I think something will be done with the estate tax - raising the exemption level, lowering the tax rate, or even phasing out the whole thing.But he does not see any dramatic changes in income-tax rates, certainly not the $1.3 trillion tax reduction that Pres.-elect Bush has proposed.I don't think the tax-reduction proposal is what drove Gov. Bush's success in the election, and I think hardly anybody in Congress does, he said. There's a strong sentiment not to do anything in the neighborhood of what Mr. Bush has suggested, even among the Republicans in Congress.Inslee said a bipartisan consensus can emerge on education, predicting that federal assistance to help lower class sizes and build more schools may advance. He he would back a measure to create federal tax breaks for school construction.He will also continue pushing a measure to forgive federal student loans to graduates who will spend five years as a schoolteacher.The school system on Bainbridge is good enough that recruiting teachers here is not too much of a problem, he said. But in other parts of the country, it's a big problem. This measure would create some incentives to go into teaching instead of going to work in a high-tech job.A prescription-drug benefit for senior citizens and a patients' bill of rights are other areas where he thinks that there is a broad enough bipartisan consensus to get something done.He is less optimistic, though, about the environment and campaign-finance reform.I haven't heard anything from what will be the White House on those issues, he said.He said Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) will hold President Bush's feet to the fire on campaign-finance reform.This may be McCain's revenge, Inslee said of the finance-reform crusader who pushed Bush for the Republican presidential nomination.Enviro-woesBut Inslee said the news isn't so good on the environment, which lost its most high-profile champion with the defeat of Vice President Al Gore.The leadership is going to have to come from Congress on the environment, he said.Inslee said he and about 20 other congressmen have formed what they call the global climate change caucus to address the global-warming problem, which has been left without a spokesman in the wake of Vice President Gore's defeat.This is the sleeper issue of the next decade, he said, because the problems are coming on slowly. Politicians are good at putting out fires, but have more trouble dealing with problems that are over the horizon.Locally, Inslee would like to see Congress rescue fast-ferry service from Kingston to Seattle, which is no longer a priority of the Washington State Ferries system.The fact that fares are going up will help persuade Congress that the people are doing their part, he said. But realistically, this will be a tough sell.Inslee said the closeness of the presidential election and the even division in Congress will make bipartisan cooperation a necessity if anything is going to get done in the next two years. But the alternative - partisanship and the resultant gridlock - is also a possibility.It depends on the division within the Republican Party - that's where the friction and fireworks will be, he said.The moderates in the House are willing to work across the aisle, but the more conservative members may not be.Asked if Republican moderates have the numbers to push the more rock-ribbed conservatives towards the center, Inslee said:They have the numbers. The question is whether they have the gumption. "