LAST YEAR the administration sent up to Congress a menu of proposed budget and tax cuts that provided a very lean diet for the poor and a veritable feast for the well-to-do. It included a few things that would discomfit better-off recipients of federal favors--user charges for the owners of yachts and private planes, termination of some of the most egregiously wasteful public works projects, reduced subsidies for exporters and so on. Congress took the tax and budget proposals pretty much as is --except it added several more pleasant surprises for wealthy taxpayers, including a hefty tax dodge for itself, and rejected out of hand the minor discomfitures proposed for the well-to-do.
Now the administration has sent to Congress a package of budget requests for the next fiscal year that is, once again, heavily weighted against the poorest members of society. In the interests of a modicum of balance, however, it resurrected many of the user fee proposals rejected last year and added some small but useful tax reform measures. These include speeding up collections of what is left of corporate taxes, ending the favoritism to government contractors that allows them to escape taxation for several years, restructuring the poorly designed corporate minimum tax and cracking down on the many people who fail to report dividends and interest on their tax returns.
Early congressional reaction to the new tax and user charge proposals suggests that the merits of most of the tax reforms and user charges are unlikely even to be discussed. Congress is clearly annoyed at being pestered by the reappearance of a set of proposals that it swept under the rug only a year ago. Its strategy seems to be to consign these ideas to oblivion on the simple grounds that they have been rejected before.
If Congress never passed anything that it had rejected before, it is fair to say that there would hardly be a decent piece of legislation on the books. To their credit, many congressmen from both political parties are dismayed by the administration's renewed assault on the poor. But Congress also needs to demonstrate that, in its earnest desire to balance the budget, it is willing to take on some of the powerful interests that guard billions of dollars in tax preferences and budget subsidies. This really is a test of its good faith, and the whole nation will be watching.