House GOP Proposes Capital Gains Tax Cut

With stock ownership at an all-time high, House Republicans yesterday proposed to cut the top tax rate on capital gains from 20 percent to 15 percent.

The White House immediately criticized the idea as a favor for wealthy investors, but GOP leaders point to recent research estimating that 84 million people own stock or participate in mutual funds -- an increase of 170 percent from 1970.

"Capital gains are no longer just for Wall Street brokers and high rollers," said Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "Today, a stake in America's private sector often pays for college or a more secure retirement."

The GOP proposal would slash the top individual capital gains rate on stocks and most other investments held longer than one year from 20 percent to 15 percent, effective retroactively to July 1. For people who pay income taxes at the 15 percent rate, the capital gains tax would drop from 10 percent to 7.5 percent, also retroactive to July 1.

The cost of the cuts over 10 years is unofficially estimated at $50 billion. They will be part of an $850 billion, 10-year tax package expected to emerge from the Ways and Means Committee next week.

Clinton, Congress To Hold Budget Talks

President Clinton and congressional leaders plan to meet at the White House next week to discuss their dueling proposals for what to do with the $2.9 trillion in 10-year budget surpluses that both sides project.

White House officials have issued an invitation for Monday, but the timing may change to accommodate lawmakers who are out of town.

Both sides said the discussions will focus on revamping Medicare and Social Security and on Clinton's proposal to create a new, voluntary prescription drug benefit. Also on the table will be both sides' proposals for tax cuts and domestic and defense spending.

Group to Review PPO Health Plans

Less-structured managed-care plans that have come to dominate the health insurance market soon will face the same sort of evaluations that HMOs have come to expect.

This year, the National Committee on Quality Assurance, the leading group evaluating the quality of HMOs, will begin to evaluate preferred provider organizations, known as PPOs.

PPOs encourage more than 89 million patients to use doctors and hospitals that are part of their networks, but they allow members to use others if they are willing to pay an extra fee.

"In health care today, the only entity that's truly being held accountable is the HMO. That's wrong," said Margaret E. O'Kane, president of the committee, which has been accrediting HMO plans since 1991.

Fate of Excess Defense Hardware Uncertain

Nearly $2.7 billion in excess military property, including sensitive weapons parts, cannot be accounted for after being marked for disposal or sale, according to records examined by congressional investigators.

The Pentagon says the problem is more clerical than criminal, though it acknowledges having no record of final disposal for about 13 percent of military surplus property in fiscal 1998.