The Senate Finance Committee yesterday voted to give thrifty Americans a tax break on income from interest on savings accounts, at an estimated cost of $27 billion to the Treasury over the next decade.
In an amendment the committee will seek to tuck into the oil windfall profits tax, it voted to permit individuals, starting in 1981, to exclude from taxation up to$200 in savings account interest or investment dividends or a combination of both. Couples could exclude up to $400 on a joint return.
Current law permits a $100-per-person exclusion for dividends only.
Meanwhile, opponents of an administration-backed amendment to stiffen the windfall profits tax stalled Senate action on the measure while they try to work out a deal to minimize their losses.
President Carter reportedly called Senate leaders yesterday to urge them to hang tough on Wednesday's tentative vote to increase the tax bite by $22.5 billion over the next decade.
Some senators were talking in terms of a general compromise that would increase the total yield of the Senate bill over the decade from $138 billion to about $165 billion, but administration sources said they wanted more. Senate action was suspended pending off-the-floor negotiations that may continue today.
The slow pace prompted House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) to predict that Congress will not be able to finish the tax bill by its pre-Christmas target date for adjournment, now Dec. 21.
Congressional leaders expect Congress to wind up the year with action completed on energy mobilization, standby gas rationing authorization and low-income fuel assistance, but not on energy conservation, synthetic fuels or windfall profits tax legislation.
The Senate Finance Committee's vote in favor of the savings interest exemption was 15 to 2, strongly enhancing its chances for Senate approval. A similar measure is awaiting House action.
Although the Carter administration objected to the committee's action, the proposal's inclusion in the windfall profits tax bill, which the president badly wants, presumably would shield it from a veto.
The proposal, championed primarily by Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Tex.), was sold mainly as an incentive for savings, investment and capital formation, although it also had the political gloss of a "Mom-and-Pop" tax break.
"It will serve the individual interests of millions of small investors and savers who see their assets ravaged by inflation," Bentsen said. "And it will serve our overriding national interests by providing incentives for savings and investment at precisely the time they are most urgently required. . . ," he added, noting that the United States has a lower savings rate than most industrialized countries and is therefore short of money for capital investment.
Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) objected that Bentsen's proposal would "pay people to do what they're already doing," instead of concentrating the tax relief on new savers. Nelson, joined by administration officials, urged unsuccessfully that action be postponed until next year for more comprehensive treatment of the matter.
The committee-approved proposal is a modification of an earlier Bentsen plan that would have added to the existing $100 dividend exemption a $100 interest exemption that would have risen to $500 by 1985, at an estimated cost of $43 billion by 1990.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) agreed to committee consideration of the issue after it drew a strong show of support on the Senate floor last week.
Now that it has the proper committee blessing, it does not become a precedent for the kind of Christmas-tree-style floor ornamentation of the bill that Long wants to avoid. It is also less costly, and is crafted to satisfy those who also wanted more dividend tax relief.