Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), apparently trying to convince key elements of the oil industry to back the House GOP budget, said yesterday that the goal of raising taxes by about $100 billion over the next three years can be achieved without raising energy taxes.
While not ruling out an energy tax increase, the statement was a clear signal that such proposals--including an oil import fee, a gasoline tax, or a consumption tax based on British thermal units--will not be on the agenda of the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Dole made the comment at a Finance Committee hearing at which major representatives of the energy industry were testifying with near unanimous voices against tax hikes. At the same time, he criticized the politically influential Independent Petroleum Association for reportedly opposing both Republican and Democratic budget proposals that are to be voted upon by the House today.
Some sources noted that Dole wants to use the budget mandate to raise taxes as an opportunity to force approval of a "fairness" package of tax hikes, three of which are in trouble in his committee.
Pressure to approve these tax increases--repeal of corporate tax sales, cutbacks in the benefits of the new depreciation schedule enacted last year, and creation of a new corporate minimum tax--would be lessened if Congress approved a broad energy tax.
In addition, a large number of Finance Committee members, including Dole, are from energy-producing states or are highly sympathetic to the oil and gas industry's concerns over taxation.
Dole's maneuvering on the energy taxes reflects a much broader problem facing Congress and the administration as the prospect of having to enact a major tax increase becomes increasingly threatening, not only to the members up for reelection, but also to competing interest groups that face the prospect of absorbing much of the tax burden.
In a related development yesterday, for example, the Associated General Contractors declared that it was "breaking an 18-month moratorium on criticism of the Reagan administration," and declared that it will fight an administration proposal to severely restrict the tax breaks available to companies performing long-term contracts.
"We have been good soldiers in tough economic times," said Hubert Beatty, vice president of the organization. "But there are limits to what construction can absorb."
In addition, on the House side, opponents of another revenue-raising proposal--reform of corporate pension plans--are preparing to testify en masse today before the Ways and Means Committee. Democrats clearly intend to make the issue as difficult as possible for the administration, which refused to testify earlier in the week.
Dole said the Independent Petroleum Association "does not want a budget" approved by Congress because its members "are afraid to pay a tax."
Then he asked Robert E. Vinson, tax chairman for the petroleum association, if the group would back approval of a budget by the House. Vinson contended that his association had taken no public position. The petroleum association is partic ularly influential among Southern energy-state Democrats and among many conservative Republicans.