House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) said yesterday he would declare his panel's tax-revision proposal dead on Monday unless President Reagan can produce 50 GOP votes. Officials later said the president would make an unusual personal appeal for tax overhaul in a meeting with House Republicans.
Reagan's decision to go to Capitol Hill on Monday came as Republican rebels continued to work against the Democratic tax-overhaul measure, which they torpedoed in a surprise attack Wednesday on the House floor.
One official said Reagan's last-ditch plea to all GOP House members signals that the president "wants the opportunity to put to rest any misunderstandings" arising from the defection of all but 14 Republicans on the crucial vote that blocked consideration of the bill.
Rostenkowski said in an interview that he would not allow a vote to amend the Democratic tax bill on the House floor -- a condition set by House Republican leaders for relaxing their opposition. Only a substitute GOP tax package could be subject to amendment, he said.
Meanwhile, GOP leaders called a meeting of House Republicans and passed out statements to be used over the weekend to defend their vote on Wednesday to block the tax bill. The meeting had the approval of Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), leaders said.
Reagan, who has made no public appearances on tax overhaul in the two days since the bill was blocked on the House floor, will devote part of his weekly radio address to the issue today. Aides said the speech will make general references to the impasse in the House.
Several business lobbyists who have worked with the White House to support the bill yesterday questioned the administration's commitment to moving the package.
"If this is a full-court press for the major domestic-policy initiative of the president of the United States, they ought to be ashamed of themselves," said a leading business lobbyist who asked not to be identified. "We remain a committed army of genuinely concerned people, and we don't have a general sitting over in the White House working with us."
"After all the talk and all the diversions and all the sideshows and red herrings, it's clear they don't have the votes," said a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). "This is classic White House damage control. They've lost, and they're trying to shift the blame."
Only 14 of 182 House Republicans voted with the Democrats Wednesday in an unsuccessful effort to bring the bill to the floor. Rostenkowski and other Democratic leaders say they will not try again until they are assured of 50 GOP votes. The administration is believed to have collected more than 35 votes.
Rostenkowski said Wednesday's setback did not kill the chances of passing a bill this year.
"I think they chances are slipping, but they aren't slipping away," the Chicago Democrat said, adding that blame for the delay or for failure of the legislation, if that occurs, will not fall on Democrats. They produced 188 votes for the rule to consider the legislation.
O'Neill and Michel met late in the day in a session described as amiable and successful, but no specific agreements were reached.
House Republicans wanted a guarantee that they could vote to amend the Ways and Means bill by raising the personal exemption to $2,000 for all but the richest taxpayers and offset the cost in federal revenue by new limits on deductions for debt on consumer loans.
They also wanted the House to vote a resolution of intent that no tax changes will take place until 1987, so that it does not cause uncertainty for businesses with investment plans. Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) also has said tax overhaul should be effective no sooner than 1987.
Rostenkowski said yesterday that he and O'Neill could agree to a vote to amend an alternative GOP tax package, which also was scheduled for a floor vote until Wednesday's surprise reversal. But he said he wanted to keep his version intact for fear of losing more Democratic support if it is changed.
"I am not accepting any amendments to the committee bill," he said. "I think most members understand that. If I accept one there, don't I have to accept an amendment in timber? Don't I have to accept an amendment in oil? Don't I have to accept an amendment in steel?"
The White House, meanwhile, said it was up to Democrats to respond to the GOP offer, implying that action could be taken without a commitment on GOP votes. "We're waiting to see what direction the speaker takes. The Republicans have put the ball in his court," an official said.
Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan has called or met with about 40 Republican House members in the last few days. Some contacts took place before Reagan was aware of the extent of the damage caused by Wednesday's vote.
Speakes read this statement by Reagan: "The tax bill, as the president views it, is one that is wanted and needed and an urgent need for the American people. The president expects the House to consider the bill when it convenes next week. We believe that the votes are there for the passage of tax reform."
Meanwhile, at a meeting organized by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) with Michel's permission, House Republicans and their staffs were briefed on the weaknesses of the tax bill and on possible responses to Democratic charges that they "killed tax reform."
"The bill is antigrowth," said a statement distributed at the meeting. "According to the president's chief economic adviser, the Ways and Means tax bill, if passed, will cause a recession in 1986."
The White House said last week that the economic study showed the tax bill would cause a brief slowdown in growth, but would help the economy in the long run.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors instructed local affiliates to contact legislators over the weekend urging a vote against the bill.