The shape of the tax debate to take place on the House floor Wednesday demonstrates the overwhelming dominance of the basic issues by Republican economic and political thinking.
The Democratic leadership and the Ways and Means Committee have produced a bill that makes a token bow to the party's traditional loyalty through individual rate cuts targeted to those with annual incomes of $10,000 to $50,000.
But both in detail and in long-range consequences for financing the federal government, the committee bill reflects acceptance of fundamental changes in the tax structure that, to the delight of Republican adversaries, will place a tight rein on the role of government.
The result may be a political victory for the Democrats, but even if the bill is victorious on the House floor Wednesday, it faces certain additional compromise when it goes to Senate-House conference. The Senate is all but guaranteed to pass the Republican version of the bill.
Many of the Democrats backing the committee bill argue that the importance of producing a major floor victory after two humbling defeats on budget issues at the hands of the Reagan administration outweighs the compromises.
The view of Republicans, however, was reflected in a description by Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan of GOP tax strategy over the past three months: "We were going to stand still and let them come to us -- that's exactly what they've done."
Under both the Democratic version and the Reagan bill, the corporate share of financing the federal government will decline significantly. Administration figures developed before the final version of its bill was worked out show, for example, that the corporate income tax provided 12.4 percent of federal revenues in 1980. This will fall to about 7.7 percent in 1986. These estimates should remain roughly accurate for both bills.
For Democrats fighting a losing battle to preserve social programs in the budget, the issues of total revenues and their sources become increasingly important in shaping federal programs later in the decade. The bipartisan support for major increases in the defense budget only intensifies the potential conflict for the federal dollar after a tax bill passes.
Here are some of the provisions in the Democratic committee bill that would have been unlikely, if not inconceivable, before the Nov. 4 election and the Reagan administration's subsequent masterful control of the tax and budget debate:
Adoption of a business tax proposal that replaces the depreciation system with one-year writeoffs of capital investment. The system, called expensing, would be phased in over 10 years.
This method of taxing capital investment is highly attractive to many elements of the business community, but major corporate and trade association lobbies are reluctant to back it because they are politically committed to the Reagan administration program as a package. This proposal, and the administration's alternative 10-5-3 depreciation system, would result in the significant lessening of the corporate share of the tax burden.
The effective elimination of the estate tax. Under both the Democratic committee bill and the Reagan measure, the total number of estates facing federal taxation would be fewer than 7,000 out of more than 2 million estates a year.
The Ways and Means bill, in a move that is more difficult to explain from the traditional Democratic viewpoint, also proposed dropping the maximum rate on estates from 70 to 50 percent. The maximum applies to estates of more than $5 million -- a standard of wealth not normally associated with Democratic Party loyalists. The cut would mean, for the beneficiaries of a $25 million estate, for example, a $4 million tax break.
The estate tax changes are being justified by both parties on the grounds that they will help preserve small businesses and farms, but critics contend that the reduction will function much more to protect wealth that is not economically productive, such as gold holdings, gentleman farms and speculative art investments.
Weaking of the oil profits tax. Under the Democratic bill, 500 barrels of new oil a day would be exempted for independent producers. At $35 a barrel, the break for an individual producer able to take full advantage of the provision would amount to $912,500 a year. The Republican bill more than matches the Democratic breaks.
Creation of "all-savers certificates" to be issued by lending institutions for a year starting Sept. 30, 1981, in the Democratic bill and for a 15-month-period in the Republican bill. The certificates, which would bear interest at 70 percent of the rate on 91-day Treasury bills, would pay up to $2,000 tax-free interest to a couple filing a joint return. In order for the investment to be economically advantageous, the taxpayer would have to be in the 32 percent bracket or higher; otherwise, investing directly in Treasury bills would result in more after-tax income. At the same time, the measures would end the direct interest income exclusion ($200 on a single return; $400 on a joint return) that is beneficial to all taxpayers regardless of their tax bracket.
All these provisions have either been matched or bettered by the Reagan administration in a poker game where all the cards have been dealt.
The tactics, conducted in large part by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), have meant adopting provisions that made many of the Ways and Means Committee Democrats privately choke, but they appear to have produced a situation where the Democrats now have a slightly better than even chance of winning.
In background conversations, Democratic members of the House and their aides argue that the stakes of the game -- in terms of preserving a semblance of Democratic control of the House -- make it worth their while to try bluffing with what they might otherwise consider an unplayable hand