House Republicans yesterday declared their adamant opposition to higher taxes of any kind, deepening their division with President Bush and throwing a potential stumbling block in the way of White House and congressional budget negotiators.
In a private meeting, House GOP lawmakers approved a resolution putting them on record against "new taxes and all tax rate increases as a means of reducing the federal budget deficit," language the measure said included "not only income tax rates but all rates on all existing taxes under federal jurisdiction."
The resolution, which participants said carried by a 2-to-1 ratio, set the rank-and-file Republicans firmly at odds with their president and party leader, who said last month that higher tax revenue was necessary to deal with the deficit.
"We admire the president, we support the president, but we don't work for the president," said Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.).
The strong GOP support for the resolution also underscored the difficulty any deficit-cutting package that raises taxes would face in Congress. Democratic leaders, wary of being blamed for higher taxes in an election year, have said that any legislation to do that must have the support of a majority of House and Senate Republicans.
"It turns up the heat 360 degrees under the paranoia over which party will be blamed for which pieces of the agreement," said House Budget Committee Chairman Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.).
Bush "will have to make clear how he'll lead his party," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who presides over the budget talks. "To have one party say revenues are off the table would really cripple these negotiations."
The resolution "came up very briefly" when Bush met yesterday with top congressional leaders from both parties at the White House, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said. At the meeting, Bush and the lawmakers agreed to try to reach a deficit-cutting agreement before Congress leaves in early August for a month-long recess.
Some Democratic budget bargainers seemed to delight yesterday in the Republican rift and predicted that it would hamper efforts to reach a deficit-reduction agreement. "It seems to be a repudiation of the president's own statement," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.). "Until this division can be resolved, it's difficult to see how we can make any more progress in the negotiations."
But Foley said, "We're not going to be deterred from our efforts by a resolution from House Republicans or the statements of individual members" of Congress.
Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), who offered the anti-tax resolution, said it was aimed at Democrats, not Bush. "If they want to pass a package of repressive tax increases, they'll have to do it without our votes," he said.
To make the target clear, Armey added language calling Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) "a consistent roadblock to real spending cuts or growth incentives." The addition came at the suggestion of White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, according to GOP lawmakers.
Mitchell angered Republicans last week by saying that the rate at which capital gains are taxed should not be cut as Bush wants unless income tax rates are increased for the wealthy. He led the drive last year that killed the capital gains tax cut.
"This is essentially a dispute between House Republicans and the president," Mitchell later told reporters. "I don't want to get involved in that."
Republican budget negotiators sought to play down the significance of the resolution. "All it says is that Republicans oppose taxes," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (Minn.), the House Budget Committee's ranking GOP member. "We've always been opposed to taxes."
"It's not going to be seriously damaging to the interests of the summit," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), the Senate Budget Committee's ranking Republican.
En route to California later yesterday, Bush said that following the budget talks there was "a lot of work still to be done" but that "every time we sit down, we get rid of some of the differences."
Bush declined to say whether the outlines of an agreement were worked out.
Also yesterday, the Senate Budget Committee voted 20 to 1 to approve legislation sponsored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) that would remove the Social Security trust fund from the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law's calculation of the budget deficit beginning Oct. 1.
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) cast the dissenting vote.
The move, which has widespread congressional support, would add $73 billion to the fiscal 1991 deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office. On Monday, the administration projected the deficit would reach $168.8 billion, not counting the cost of cleaning up the savings and loan industry. The deficit allowed under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law is $64 billion.
And the House, which Tuesday rejected by seven votes a constitutional amendment that would have banned deficits, voted 282 to 144 to approve a statute requiring balanced budgets. The measure is not expected to pass the Senate.
Staff writer Ann Devroy, traveling with Bush, contributed to this report.