Congressional negotiations over budget-balancing could delay efforts to overhaul the tax code, analysts said yesterday.
A House-Senate conference, expected to start work Wednesday on legislation requiring a balanced budget by 1991, could slow the already sluggish tax-writing sessions of the House Ways and Means Committee. And if enacted, the bill could reshape the substance of tax revision, some tax writers say.
Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), one of the few panel members with a sense of urgency about tax revision, probably will have to spend a large part of next week, and perhaps the rest of the month, in the conference committee on the budget legislation. So will 14 of his committee's 36 members.
"I can't imagine doing anything really serious this coming week," said Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.). "We're going to be slow for the rest of the month."
Sidetracked by the budget legislation and House passage Thursday of a Ways and Means Committee measure restricting imports of textiles, Rostenkowski canceled Thursday's tax-writing session. The committee met yesterday, but fewer than half its members were present. The panel is not scheduled to meet again until Tuesday.
While Rostenkowski has not laid out a specific timetable, he and his aides had hoped to have completed rewriting large sections of the tax code by now. So far, the committee has taken action on 14 pages worth of tax provisions in its 139-page working document.
If the conference committee produces legislation calling for steady and specific reductions in the budget deficit over a period of years, as the Senate version does, some legislators say they think that Congress would turn to tax increases rather than giving the president more discretionary authority to cut spending.
Tax revision, even though it is being considered before the deficit reductions mandated by the Senate bill, might be superseded by tax-increase legislation, Rep. James Jones (D-Okla.) said.
"If we're going to get serious about deficit reduction, I don't see how you can get serious about tax reform," Jones said. "A number of us want to deal with the deficit now and not wait until 1986. If you do that, the choices get stark and few, and one of them is revenue."
In its first full week of substantive tax-writing, the Ways and Means Committee voted to repeal income averaging, extend the income tax to unemployment benefits, tax portions of scholarships and fellowships, improve compliance with the tax laws and curtail deductions for business meals and entertainment.
Less painful were endorsements of increases in the standard deduction and the personal exemption. Rostenkowski's proposal to tax workers' compensation, black-lung payments and disability benefits was overruled.
The committee postponed one controversial proposal, which would retain the deduction for charitable contributions for taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions. The deduction is scheduled to expire next year.