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House Votes to End Current Tax Code

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 1998; Page A04

The House voted 219 to 209 yesterday to abolish the current tax code by Dec. 31, 2002, in a largely symbolic act that one of its chief sponsors said would force politicians to make tax reform the centerpiece of the next presidential election.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Steve Largent (Okla.) and Bill Paxon (N.Y.), directs Congress to enact a new tax system by July 4, 2002.

Largent acknowledged that the current Congress cannot force a future Congress to act, but said the bill would spur tax reform in the 2000 election year.

"If we can get this passed into law, we have constructed a process that makes it very, very difficult for them not to act," Largent said after the vote, adding that the bill does not specify which new system must be adopted. "It doesn't preclude any options, or any ideas, or any plans."

Critics argued that the bill could spur a financial crisis by fostering uncertainty over the nation's tax system, but it's unclear if the measure will make it into law this year. Despite yesterday's victory, the bill faces serious opposition from the Senate and the White House.

"We need a date to take this tax code and put it in the history books," declared Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the floor. "The history books, where it belongs."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who held a news conference on the West Front to highlight his support for the Tax Code Termination Act, argued that the code had to be eliminated because it had become "a monstrosity."

He noted that it contains 350 million words and requires Americans to submit 8 billion pages of forms each year.

Twenty Republicans joined with 188 Democrats in opposing the Tax Termination Act on the grounds that it was too risky.

"You just don't play Russian roulette with something like the tax code," said Rep. Amo Houghton (N.Y.), a leading moderate Republican who voted against the measure. "I didn't come down here just to sort of go along with the crowd. There's an element of judgment here."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) dismissed the bill as "the same kind of 30-second message politics the Republican leadership has been playing for some time," adding that "Democrats believe Americans are going to see through this."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has promised the two Senate sponsors of the bill, Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and Tim Hutchinson (Ark.), a vote this summer.

But in a statement yesterday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) questioned the bill. "I have serious concerns about sunsetting the tax code without an alternative in place," he said. "Let's not put the cart before the horse."

Local lawmakers from both parties opposed the bill, including Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), Hoyer, James P. Moran Jr (D-Va.), Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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