Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday turned thumbs down on a GOP-proffered tax-cut compromise outlined by their chairman, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski D-Ill.), dousing hopes for quick bipartisan agreement on a tax bill.
At a two-hour caucus, the 22 Democrats insisted that Rostenkowski hold out for "targeting" more of the tax relief to workers in the $20,000-to-$50,000-a-year brackets, rather than accepting the across-the-board cuts in tax rates that the Reagan administration wants.
They also flatly rejected, at least for the moment, the notion of a "multi-year" tax cut that would provide for additional tax reductions in 1982 and 1983. President Reagan has cited this as the essential feature of an acceptable bill.
The Democrats' reaction threw the tax negotiations back on the table, apparently amid hopes by most panel members that the Republicans would come up with a new, more palatable offer. Republicans said they would keep negotiating, but it was not immediately clear what their next position might be.
The snag in the negotiations also raised anew the possibility that the administration might try to lure southern Democrats to defect and support the Reagan tax plan on the floor. However, the southerners conceded they are split on the issue, and many mainstream Democrats want to draft their own tax plan.
Rostenkowski told reporters that the decision by the caucus "certainly does not conclude my participation in dicussions" with the Republicans in Congress and the administration. "I should imagine they [the committee members] are instructing me to continue my negotiations," he said.
But the caucus action reversed the sense of progress that Rostenkowski had created Wednesday when he said that he and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert Dole (R-Kan.) had been "pretty much on target" in their negotiations that day.
Yesterday, the chairman told a press conference that the caucus had decided that "a multi-year tax cut is not acceptable" to Democrats, "at least at this time," and that the kind of across-the-board tax-reductions Reagan wants "will not help working people" as much as targeted cuts.
The compromise Rostenkowski had outlined was based on a plan by Dole that would combine a scaled-back version of the president's proposal with several provisions backed by the Democrats, such as an easing of the "marriage penalty" now paid by working couples.
Dole had suggested trimming Reagan's plan for a three-year, 30 percent across the board cut in tax rates to 25 percent, beginning with a 5 percent cut this October and followed by 10 percent reductions in July of 1982 and 1983. The White House had signaled its approval of Dole's plan.
Democratic strategists pointed out that if negotiations do continue, the caucus' action could give Rostenkowski a strengthened hand in dealing with Republicans. As of last night, sources said there were no further meetings scheduled, either with Dole or with administration officials. f
Rostenkowski and Dole had breakfasted with Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan yesterday to report on their Wednesday session. The White House told reporters later Regan had told a Cabinet meeting there still were "substantial differences" between the two chairmenhs views and those of the administration.
The Dole-Rostenkowski negotiations also were pooh-poohed yesterday by House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). O'Neill told reporters at his daily news conference that reports of a possible compromise were "vastly overstated."
Earlier yesterday, the president took a little swipe at Wall Street, where there are fears his three-year tax-cut plan could prove inflationary. He declared the financial markets were only trying to protect their interests and "are not a source of good economic advice."
"In Wall Street, I think they're looking through a very narrow glass and see only one facet," Reagan told a group of visiting state and local official. "They're sitting there watching anything they think may change the interest rates and the bond markets."
His comments marked the first time Reagan has criticized the markets. Mostly up to now, his administration has sought to assuage them; his entire economic plan has been geared to building up confidence among investors. Instead, however, investors have become worried over impending budget deficits. The bond market has fallen into a slump.