President Reagan and his aides yesterday sought to snuff out the flare-up over his suggestion that corporate income taxes might be abolished, and they accused reporters of overplaying a presidential remark they insisted was not a serious proposal.
"I said yesterday I would kick myself for saying that. I have," Reagan told reporters good-naturedly as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was leaving the White House.
Reagan broached the subject Wednesday afternoon, when he suggested off-the-cuff to a group of Massachusetts high-technology executives that he thinks it is "hard to justify" corporate income taxes. And he later told reporters it was "something we ought to look at."
But White House spokesman Larry Speakes said yesterday that Reagan didn't want anyone to look at it. He paraphrased Reagan as telling aides in a helicopter just after he made the remark that "I do not want anyone to look into it."
"It is not on the front burner. It is not on the back burner . . . . It is not being considered in any way, shape or fashion," Speakes said.
Scolding reporters yesterday for what he called unfair reporting of the president's comment, Speakes claimed they were "licking their chops" and "doing back flips" over the remark. He faulted the news accounts because he said they didn't indicate that Reagan was not making a serious proposal.
Later, the president shook his hand for criticizing the news reports, Speakes said. "He thought I had done fine."
Other White House officials were privately dismayed by the incident, because the president's tax remark totally overwhelmed the made-for-television tableau they had engineered for the afternoon trip to Boston. Instead of suggesting tax breaks for corporations, they wanted Reagan to be seen with blue-collar workers, minority job trainees and talking to upbeat high-technology businessmen.
Speakes said the president's comment just reflected his thinking for many years that double taxation of corporations is wrong. He added that Reagan could have talked to Treasury Department officials about abolishing the corporate income tax in connection with a long-term study being done on ways to simplify the tax code.
While refusing to respond to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who said of Reagan's remark, "He showed that his heart was still in the corporate board room," Speakes said O'Neill "exhibits a very fine spirit of bipartisanship from time to time."