BOB DOLE wants to use a quirk in the tax reform bill to help finance the deficit next fiscal year. That would save Congress from having to vote this year for the dreaded tax increase that President Reagan opposes. The vote would presumably still occur, but not until safely after the upcoming midterm elections. The majority leader is trying to defer a day of reckoning that everyone knows must occur. He fools no one with that; it is a bad idea.
To keep reform from becoming a stalking horse for a tax increase, the president has always said that it must be revenue neutral, giving up in reduced rates only what it recoups through fewer preferences. Congress has gone along with that. But it is impossible to have every provision in a big tax bill take full effect at the same time. Thus both the bill the House passed last year and the bill the Senate will take up this summer are revenue neutral over five years, but not in any one of those five. It was estimated last winter that in its first year the House bill would pick up about $7 billion more than present law; in the next three it would lose $2 billion, $7 billion and nearly $3 billion, respectively; and then in the fifth it would regain almost $5 billion, finishing the period in a draw. The official estimates for the Senate bill have not been made yet, but the swings there are said to be even wider.
It is pretty well agreed that Congress will need some extra revenues to hit its deficit target next fiscal year. Mr. Dole asks: if the first year of tax reform will supply those revenues, why not wait to pass a tax increase? But this isn't dodge ball. Over the long haul, it is clear a tax increase will be necessary in purely fiscal terms. Without a tax increase the budgets put together in the House and the Senate could also fall apart politically and would be unconvincing in the financial markets.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici and House Budget Chairman Bill Gray both want the necessary tax increase passed this year. They are right. In setting the effective dates, Congress can take the revenue flows from tax reform into account. But no more promissory notes. Congress knows what is required -- and should do it.