Now the work begins As the lobbyists converge

Robert Reno

June 22, 1993|By Robert Reno NNTC

ONE of the greatest confluences of lobbyists ever seen wil soon besiege Capitol Hill as the real work of writing a budget bill begins.

Forget about everything you've heard so far, how the House passed the president's budget largely intact, how the Senate Finance Committee tore up the Btu tax and passed its own version and how the full Senate is expected to approve the bill sometime this month. Everything will be back on the table when the measure goes to a House-Senate conference committee which will write what is virtually certain to be the final version.

It will be everybody's last chance to shift the burden and %J sacrifice of deficit reduction to somebody else. And if you took all the people in Washington who say they have been assured that they are not to worry, that they will not be taxed unfairly, that their special interests will be taken care of in the conference committee and that they will be satisfied with the final bill, they would stretch from Capitol Hill to Baltimore.

That not even God could not write such a bill is beside the point. And this alone suggests that they could reduce the deficit mightily by holding the conference in the Kennedy Center and selling tickets. Besides, Washington is full of people who'd pay to see the two Daniels -- Rostenkowski and Moynihan -- pretending they do not detest each other as much as everybody says they do. If Mr. Moynihan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Mr. Rostenkowski, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, set the tone for this conference, it will be something in the nature of a Harvard seminar held in a Daley machine clubhouse.

The current differences between the Senate and House are marginal to the extent that each fully embraces President Clinton's five-year goal for deficit reduction. But they are far apart on a number of issues including empowerment zones, which the Senate completely eliminated, and the earned income tax credit, which the House would make much more generous.

The House Democrats swallowed very hard and went along with President Clinton's broad-based Btu tax. It might even have zipped through the Senate Finance Committee if the oil lobby hadn't stuck out its foot and sent it sprawling. So now the conferees are going to have to find some common ground between the Btu tax and the Senate's 4.3-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax, coupled with much deeper cuts in Medicare.

The Senate's version pretends to come down harder on the side of spending cuts as opposed to taxes. This particularly irritates a lot of liberals in Congress who point out that the Medicare cuts aren't cuts at all but a shifting of costs which doctors and hospitals will merely pass on to the taxpayers.

Anyway, the Democrats have produced a rare degree of unity on the question of deficit reduction, perhaps even for the good of the nation, perhaps to their own ruin. And if this made anybody in Washington happy it was Bob Dole, the Senate Republican leader, who looked like the father of the bride as he bubbled geniality when the full Finance Committee met last Thursday. The reason for his glee was obvious. The Democrats were raising taxes. They were actually sitting there, of their own free will, writing the script for the commercials in his 1996 presidential campaign.

Robert Reno is a columnist for Newsday.

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