Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee balked at raising taxes yesterday during the panel's first effort to meet deficit-reduction targets. Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee fared no better, setting aside most of the items on a long list of revenue increases before them.
Both committees now have only one week to meet their self-imposed deficit-reduction deadlines, and Republicans on both panels are threatening not to participate. GOP members of Ways and Means walked out last week, and ranking Finance Committee Republican Bob Packwood (Ore.) called yesterday for putting off a tax bill until more pressure builds to cut spending as well.
Speaking after a morning meeting between Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and Finance Committee Republicans, Packwood said he was convinced President Reagan would veto "any new taxes. Period." He said sentiment to postpone a tax bill is "uniform" among his fellow GOP members, several of whom spoke against raising taxes yesterday.
"Nobody wants to sacrifice himself to a futile enterprise, and there is a sense it will be a futile enterprise" unless Reagan can be persuaded to support a tax increase, said Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.). He suggested that Reagan and Democratic congressional leaders negotiate a bipartisan budget compromise to avoid automatic spending cuts.
In Ways and Means, where Democrats have nearly a 2-to-1 majority, members predicted eventual approval of a tax bill with or without Republican participation. But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), whose committee has 11 Democratic and nine Republican members, was clearly shaken by the incipient revolt.
"It certainly comes as a disappointment," Bentsen said. " . . . I doubt very seriously it can be done in the Senate without bipartisan support. It's obviously going to be very difficult." Bentsen said he still plans to forge ahead and is scheduled to announce his next move today.
Ways and Means Democrats agreed Wednesday to $6.3 billion in higher taxes, but quickly bogged down yesterday when confronted with such politically difficult options as taxing some employer-provided fringe benefits.
"The closer we get to the tough decisions, the more silent the members become," said Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.).
He said he wants Democrats to agree on a $12 billion package by Wednesday, first considering proposals to close various loopholes and then considering excise taxes or higher tax rates if necessary.
Staff writer Tom Kenworthy contributed to this report.