White House makes final tax-reform push
President Reagan this week is making a last-ditch effort to win House support for tax reform -- his top domestic priority. On Sunday, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III laid out the stakes. Speaking on ABC's ``This Week with David Brinkley,'' he said, ``The President's view is if we don't move something out of the House of Representatives, tax reform is dead. It is not a case of revisiting it. We are not going to have an opportunity to revisit it in the Reagan presidency.''
In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Mr. Reagan went a step beyond the lukewarm backing he had given earlier to a House tax-reform measure. In his Dec. 7 broadcast, the President said that while ``far from perfect,'' House efforts ``represent a tax code that is fairer, simpler, and encourages greater growth. I hope the House will vote `yes.' ''
Today, the President reportedly will write members of the House seeking support. Mr. Baker said he thought the President would have more to say soon in support of the tax-overhaul process and will demonstrate support ``not only by his words but by his actions.''
The administration's push for votes, especially among reluctant House Republicans, is tied to a final House vote on tax reform scheduled for this week. Many legislators agree with Baker's assessment that if the tax-overhaul effort dies in the House, it is unlikely that major tax changes would occur during the remainder of Reagan's second term.
However, House Republican Robert H. Michel (R) of Illinois, said on the Brinkley Show that if the current effort to overhaul taxes is defeated in the House, ``that doesn't mean it is killed forever. The President has still got three years in his administration.''
In calling for approval of the tax-reform bill, which cleared the House Ways and Means Committee last week, Reagan is implicitly seeking GOP support. Most House Republicans have shown no enthusiasm for the committee's bill, largely because it boosts corporate taxes more than the President had proposed.
Republicans have drafted a counterproposal to the Ways and Means bill. But Democrats outnumber Republicans in the House 253 to 182. Thus there is little chance the GOP version can pass when it comes up for a vote. House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D) of Massachusetts has said that without support from more than 50 of the 182 House Republicans, the Ways and Means bill can not be enacted.
``The President feels that it would be fine if the Republican alternative passed,'' Baker said Sunday, ``but if it doesn't pass I think he would like to see Republicans vote for the Ways and Means Committee bill.''
In a Voice of America interview on Friday, Secretary Baker said, ``I think that the important thing to keep in mind here is that the President wants this process to move. The only way it can move is for the House to vote a tax-reform bill.''
Baker said that the GOP version was ``certainly an improvement in some respects upon the Ways and Means Committee bill. In other respects, in my view, it doesn't represent an improvement.''
The Republican substitute would give individuals smaller tax cuts than either the President's plan or the Ways and Means bill.
As a result, the Republican plan would boost corporate taxes about $100 billion over five years, vs. a corporate tax hike of $140 billion over the same period under the Ways and Means plan.
In the Democratic response to the President's radio address, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois admitted that his committee's bill has flaws: ``It's not everything I wanted. It's not everything the President wanted. Measured by reform scholars it's not a perfect bill. But it carries more tax reform and more tax fairness than any bill in our history.''
Despite those claims and President Reagan's requests to pass a tax-reform bill so it can be improved in the GOP-controlled Senate, House Republicans remain largely unconvinced.
Rep. Dick Cheney (R) of Wyoming, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, says, ``It is not reasonable for the President to expect me to vote for a tax bill that he himself would not sign.''
House GOP leader Michel also has said that he will ignore the President's pleas and vote against the Ways and Means bill. His district has been hard hit by the farm-belt recession and he does not want to vote for a bill that he feels would make it more difficult for businesses to create jobs.
On the Brinkley program Sunday, Representative Michel said that not supporting the President on the tax issue was ``the most traumatic thing for me in my five years as his leader in the House of Representatives. You get to a point where you just have to say, this is not good mileage for Bob Michel and the majority of the Republicans as they represent their individual districts out there.''
Michel also warned that when the tax and balanced-budget bills get to the Senate, the pressure to cut popular programs imposed by the budget bill could lead to ``serious agitation'' for using the tax bill to raise additional revenue. ``I think there is a good deal of that in the wings,'' he said.