House members trying to increase tax deductions for congressmen's Washington living expenses came up with a new plan yesterday that could produce a larger deduction than planned, but put off a vote.
In 1952, Congress voted to give members a tax deduction of up to $3,000 to offset the cost of maintaining two homes and other expenses involved in living half or more of each year in Washington. Last week a House Ways and Means subcommittee headed by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) held hearings and scheduled a vote yesterday on a bill that would replace this with a formula that would increase the ceiling to $9,000.
As yesterday's session began, Rostenkowski announced that the members would discuss but not vote on the question, which seemed to suggest they were feeling the heat of publicity. Rep. Wyche Fowler (D-Ga.) led off with a critical comment, saying public service should involve sacrifice, and that this increase wouldn't look much like sacrifice to the public.
But that was the last unfriendly comment of the meeting. Five other members spoke for an increase.
Rep. Ken Holland (D-S.C.) said public service should not be equated with pulbic servitude. He said he pays more than $700 a month for a house that he could buy at home for $100 a month, and that congressional membership should not be limited to the wealthy or those with no children to educate.
Rep. Frank Guarini (D-N-J.) said the subcommittee was seeking fairness. Members of Congress should be treated like all other citizens, he said. At almost the same instant, Guarini and Rostenkowski suggested that the way to treat members of Congress like everyone else would be simply to delete the dollar figure from the bill.
A Treasury tax official said that would create a special privilege in favor of members of Congress, but no one responded to his statement.
The reason it would benefit congressman is that they are treated unlike ordinary citizens in defining their home for tax purposes. A businessman's home is his principal place of business and he can deduct living expenses only for trips away from home.
But the law says a congressman's home is the district from which he is elected. If there were no limit on a congressman's living expenses when away from home, he could deduct his entire living expenses in Washington where he now spends most of the year.
Holland said he expected the House would kill a bill to increase the deduction. But Rostenkowski said he felt the subcommittee had a responsibility to try to get it before the House. "I promise there will be a vote on this," he said.