With prospects for a major tax cut dashed for the year, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a much more modest measure yesterday to reauthorize a handful of popular tax provisions that are about to expire, including a research and development credit.
The five-year package would cost $23 billion, in contrast to the $792 billion price tag of the GOP tax plan that President Clinton vetoed on Thursday. But Treasury officials and congressional Democrats said they would oppose the plan because it would use surplus funds they want to bolster Social Security and Medicare.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), the ranking Ways and Means Democrat, said Republicans were tapping "the surplus without taking care of Social Security." He predicted that Clinton would veto the plan.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.) said his panel was acting swiftly because the Internal Revenue Service needs guidance by Oct. 7 to draft the proper tax forms for filing season.
Emerging from a closed-door meeting to draft the bill, Archer blasted Clinton for failing to provide leadership on tax policy and Social Security and for sending Congress and the public mixed signals on his intentions.
Although Clinton has repeatedly indicated a willingness to negotiate a compromise tax cut of as much as $300 billion as part of a larger deal on Social Security and Medicare, a Treasury official told Archer's committee yesterday that he was "unaware of any such package being put together" by the administration.
"I think the president has effectively rung down an iron door in the face of any tax relief," Archer said.
Originally part of the larger bill, the new bill includes a five-year extension of the research and development tax credit, which is popular with high-tech industry and manufacturers. It would extend work opportunity and welfare-to-work tax credits. And it would permanently ensure that middle-class taxpayers who claim credits such as the $500-per-child credit and dependent care credit are not forced to pay a costly alternative minimum tax.
The bill was approved 23 to 14 along party lines and likely will be considered by the full House in early October. Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) favors using part of next year's surplus to extend the expiring tax provision, but he has not scheduled committee action. Roth has also urged the leadership to consider passing an increase in the minimum wage combined with tax relief for small businesses.
There appears to be less enthusiasm on the Senate side for the smaller tax cut, in part because of concern that it might attract numerous costly add-ons in the final days of the legislative session.
"We'd have to have a lot of cooperation," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "It tends to be the engine that pulls a lot of cars."