Democrats steal some of Bush's fire to torch his plan

February 12, 1992|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In an unusual election-year strategy, congressional Democrats yesterday introduced a legislative version of President Bush's recovery plan to force a floor debate that will open the way to its televised denunciation and defeat.

They moved quickly to set the stage for a political showdown over how to revive the moribund economy. The battle will center on whether taxbreaks should be more generous for the middle class, as advocated by the Democrats, or for the wealthy, as proposed by Mr. Bush.

The administration and congressional Republicans wanted Mr. Bush's short-term proposals to stimulate the economy to be considered on a faster track than his overall budget for fiscal 1993.

Rep. Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., the minority leader, and Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the tax-originating House Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill last week identifying, assessing and funding seven key Bush proposals for jump-starting the economy. They included a $500 increase in individual tax exemption for children, a capital gains tax cut, a first-time homebuyer tax credit of $5,000 and an investment tax allowance for new equipment purchases.

But the Democrats decided to put the "entire" 55-point package under immediate scrutiny, and to do so under the goad of Mr. Bush's March 20 deadline for congressional action, set in the president's State of the Union message.

The Democratic version of Mr. Bush's "entire" package was introduced by Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, who described the earlier Republican-sponsored bill as "a slimmed-down version of the regular beer."

"What the administration now wants considered is 'short-term' legislation, loaded with special-interest tax measures, shorn of most relief for moderate-income Americans, and financed by phony accounting changes. And they say only this minimal bill will do," the Missourian said.

Previous Reagan-Bush era presidential budgets have been routinely voted down by the Democrat-led Congress, but they normally have been introduced by Republicans. This, according to a Democratic strategist, is the first time the Democrats have introduced a version of a Republican budget.

"Since our Republican colleagues will not introduce this legislation, I have chosen to do so. . . . I do not endorse the president's program, only his call for action," Mr. Gephardt said.

The House Ways and Means Committee will vote on Mr. Bush's proposals, as defined by Mr. Gephardt, today.The committee is expected to send the bill to the floor without recommendation, opening it to further congressional mauling in front of the television cameras. The committee plans to start work on the Democratic alternative tomorrow.

"They are redefining the president's package for him is what they are doing," said a Republican staff member of the Ways and Means Committee.

"They are setting up a straw man to shoot the straw man down. They will hold the thing up and rail and rant about the fact it doesn't adhere to the Budget Act of 1990 [which sets separate spending limits on defense, domestic and international spending and prohibits funds from any one of the three sectors being used to finance programs in any other]. It's not the plan. It's half the plan."

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