In an indirect response to President Reagan's criticism of his committee's work on tax overhaul, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) said yesterday that without compromise, he will not be able to move legislation through his committee.
" . . . Tax reform, like all massive changes in policy, is negotiated -- not dictated," Rostenkowski said in remarks prepared for delivery last night to an accounting group in Lincolnshire, Ill. "No compromise, no reform."
Reagan spoke out for the first time on the committee's tax-writing actions Wednesday, telling a group of supporters that "We need the kind of tax reform that we originally proposed and not with some of the waterings down that are taking place as they discuss it up there."
Administration officials said the remark, which was reinforced by White House spokesman Larry Speakes, was a deliberate warning to the committee that the White House is firm in its insistence on low tax rates. The 35 percent top tax rate Reagan has proposed would be possible only if legislators can wipe out or restrict deductions and credits. So far, they have voted to curtail some tax benefits but left many others.
Rostenkowski praised Reagan in his speech, saying the president is needed to build support for the plan among Republicans. Many GOP members of Ways and Means have opposed major changes favored by both Reagan and Rostenkowski. He also appeared to signal that he does not think that Reagan has broken his "vow of silence."
"Without Republican support both in the committee and on the floor, tax reform is dead," the Chicago Democrat said. "The president's push for tax reform is as strong as it is sincere. He's kept his commitments. He's visible. He's way out front."
Rostenkowski vowed that the committee will finish its work by Thanksgiving, a deadline that will be difficult to meet. No meetings are planned until at least late next week, although Democratic leaders are tentatively scheduling floor debate for the first week in December.
The package produced by the committee thus far has been criticized for its complexity.
But Rostenkowski said in the speech that "fairness far overshadows simplicity in our pursuit of tax reform" and predicted that the eventual package "will broaden the tax base and significantly lower rates."