The Senate Finance Committee for the first time in memory voted yesterday not to turn a major tax-cut bill a "Christmas Tree" in hopes of winning a floor vote on the measure before the Nov. 4 election.
By unanimous vote, the committee agreed to shelve some 90 narrow-interest amendments to its pending $39.8 billion tax-cut bill, and to oppose as a unit any attempts to add such provisions on the Senate floor.
The bipartisan vote, unprecedented in the Finance Committee, which has a reputation for loading its tax bills with special-interest amendments, reflected a desire by members for quick action on the tax legislation.
It was not immediately clear whether Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who earlier had opposed an early floor vote for fear of turning the tax bill into a Christmas tree, would agree to a preelection vote. t
However, Senate sources speculated it would be difficult for the Democratic leadership to refuse to bring the tax legislation up promptly now that the Finance Committee has promised to clean bill.
Finance Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) and ranking GOP member Bob Dole (Kan.) were to appeal to Byrd and Senate Republican leaders in the next few days, to schedule floor action soon.
Byrd said through a spokesman last night he would not "rule out" prompt floor action on the tax-cut bill, but cautioned that, as far as he was concerned, the matter is "still undecided." More conferences are expected today.
President Carter wants action delayed until after election; his GOP rival Ronald Reagan does not.
And House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman (D-Ore.) reiterated yesterday that his panel would not take up tax-cut legislation this year, even if the Senate passed the Finance Committee bill. l
Ullman said Democrats on Ways and Means reaffirmed their antitax cut stand in a caucus vote yesterday. However, some members have suggested the panel may change its mind if the Senate votes promptly.
For all its new self-discipline, the Finance Committee could not resist adding one "final" amendment to its tax-cut bill yesterday: a proposal to allow taxpapers who do not itemize to claim a partial deduction for charitable contributions.
Although the committee voted, for budget reasons, to phase the provision in gradually over four years, it still would cost the treasury $3.6 billion a year when fully effective.
Nevertheless, Long said he had promised its sponsors, Sens. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), that they would be allowed to add the proposal to the tax-cut bill.
As approved by the panel yesterday, the proposal would allow taxpayers who use the short form to deduct one-fourth of their charitable contributions in 1981, half in 1982, three-fourths in 1983 and all in 1984.
The Carter administration opposes the provision as unnecessary. Similar legisltion has been sponsored in the House by Reps. Barber B. Conable (R-N.Y.) and Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.).
The Finance Committee approved a $39.8 billion tax-cut bill last month that contains $22.8 billion in reductions for individuals and $17 billion in tax breaks for business -- including faster depreciation writeoffs for new investment.
The list of narrow-interest provisions the Finance Committee had been expected to approve yesterday ranged from proposals to benefit railroads, oil products and bus lines to cigars, artifical fish bait and trees hit by Dutch elm disease.
If all the proposals had been enacted they would have drained more than $5 billion from treasury revenues next year, with the figure rising to between $15 billion and $20 billion by 1985.
Despite the panel's decision yesterday, not all the narrow-interest amendments will be lost for the rest of this Congress. The panel said it plans to approve a handful of less controversial ones in a separate, minor bill later.
The Committee also agreed yesterday to send a third bill to the floor containing a proposal to renew the airport users' tax and several other provisions that are about to expire. These have been approved by the White House.