House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) sought yesterday to move the White House away from any budget deal involving a tax hike and warned that an increase in government revenues would make a recession more likely and work to the advantage of the Democrats.
In a highly partisan assault, Gingrich called for several tax cuts and declared that the "number one goal of the Republican Party should be to help the economy avoid a recession despite the Democratic leadership of Congress."
In a comment sure to make bipartisan negotiations more difficult, Gingrich also strongly suggested that Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) has actively sought to foster a major economic downturn. "We have an economy that is succumbing to a recession which I believe Senator Mitchell has frankly been planning for," he said.
Gingrich made his remarks at an afternoon news conference and elaborated on them in an evening speech at the Heritage Foundation.
The minority whip argued that the worsening condition of the economy and the increase in oil prices following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait have changed the circumstances surrounding bipartisan budget negotiations since President Bush backed away from his "no new taxes" pledge in June.
Indicating that he is likely to oppose any tax increase, Gingrich yesterday called for five separate tax cuts to stimulate the economy.
These were a substantial increase in the $2,000 deduction for dependents, a revival of individual retirement accounts and a liberalization of their use to cover education and first-home down payment costs, a business equipment investment tax cut, a reduction in the capital gains tax rate to 15 percent and business tax credits for investments in urban "enterprise zones." Gingrich argued that the loss in revenues from these tax cuts, which he did not estimate, would be more than justified because a recession would cost the government much more.
While describing Bush's decision to abandon his "no new taxes" pledge as "throwing an interception," Gingrich as recently as last month said he was "prepared to sponsor and support raising taxes," according to participants in a GOP strategy session. Yesterday, however, he said "I would find it very hard to understand an argument for a tax increase in the face of the weak economy."
Gingrich justified his suggestion that the Democratic Senate leadership may be encouraging the onset of a recession by citing Mitchell's successful efforts last year to bar passage of a capital gains tax cut. "When the Democrats in the Senate killed the capital gains bill, they weakened the economy," he said.
In addition, he argued, "The Democrats in the Senate had a deliberate strategy of not reaching a budget agreement in June or July" and "in the process they are taking the risk that Americans will be put out of work to the advantage of the Democratic Party."
None of the Democratic leadership could be reached for comment yesterday.