House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) said yesterday that major tax revision is "on track and on schedule," but that key elements of President Reagan's proposal will be discarded when the committee begins drafting a bill this fall.
"I came today to present an update on tax reform -- and to knock down the rumors . . . that tax reform is dead," Rostenkowski said in a speech to the National Press Club. "Like it or not, and believe it or not, the quest for tax reform is very much alive."
The committee will begin its work with a proposal that bears his imprint, rather than the president's, but it will retain the broad outlines of Reagan's proposal, Rostenkowski said.
He said his plan would grant more tax relief to middle-class working families and less to those in the highest income brackets than does Reagan's plan. He also said his plan would raise as much revenue as the current code does, eliminating the $25 billion, five-year deficit in the Reagan plan.
The Ways and Means chairman said his plan would raise the total tax burden on business, but would do so by equalizing tax rates on different industries, which now vary widely. It may tax capital gains, the profits from the sale of an asset, at a higher top rate than the 17.5 percent proposed in the president's plan.
Rostenkowski has emphasized that the final product will reflect the opinions of committee members, not just the tax changes he would like to see. But the speech was his first public affirmation that the Reagan plan will not be used as the basis on which a tax bill will be drafted.
Rostenkowski also predicted that "one day soon" Congress would vote to raise taxes to help reduce the budget deficit, but he said he hoped that would happen after the tax code has been revised.
"The president has no other practical alternative," he said of a possible tax increase. "We've about hit bottom on the spending side . . . . But when we decide to raise large amounts of revenue to draw down the debt, let's have ready a new tax code that gives us the revenue base to do it without hitting anyone or any business unfairly," Rostenkowski said.
In another hopeful sign for tax revision, a survey of Ways and Means members by the National Journal found that 25 of the 36 members of the committee predict that some kind of tax revision will be approved by the panel this fall and later passed by the full House.
Interviews with 34 of the members showed that "a clear majority" wants to vote for a comprehensive overhaul bill and believes that such controversial issues as the deductibility of state and local income taxes will be resolved through compromise, the publication said.
Rostenkowski said that he thought that the House could complete work on a bill by the end of October but that he doubted whether the Senate would finish it this year.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), meanwhile, predicted yesterday that the chances for tax overhaul would not be harmed if both chambers of Congress don't complete action this year.
Noting that Congress has approved numerous tax bills in election years, Packwood told the Ripon Society that "the fact that it's a political year doesn't mean we can't pass it."
But slippage to 1986 probably would mean that tax overhaul would be completed next summer rather than early in the year, Packwood said.
Outlining what he would like to see in a tax overhaul bill, Packwood said it should bring in no more and no less revenue than the current tax code, require that corporations and individuals pay a minimum percentage of their income in taxes, boost the competitiveness of U.S. firms abroad and make the tax burden on different kinds of industries more equal.
Packwood said a tax increase to reduce the federal budget deficit would sidetrack tax revision temporarily, perhaps taking up the month of September, but would not derail it entirely.