GOP primed to open with solidarity

January 04, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-led Congress gets down to business today with a lengthy House agenda that includes a controversial proposal to require a three-fifths vote -- instead of a simple majority -- to raise income tax rates.

If adopted as expected, that change -- which many Democrats call unconstitutional -- could affect congressional spending far into the future and pressure state and local governments to find fresh revenue sources for favored programs.

Opening ceremonies in which the GOP officially takes control of Capitol Hill are to be followed by a long day of work that Republican leaders say might go well into the night.

Texas Rep. Dick Armey, the new majority leader, said he and his GOP colleagues "have a lot of pent-up frustration" as a result of being unable to get their proposals enacted in the past.

"We're going to seize this moment and we're going to move legislation," he said.

Requiring a "super-majority" to raise taxes is the most potentially sweeping change on a 33-item list that House leaders will take up today to begin meeting terms of the "Contract with America" that Republicans signed in the fall campaign.

The House also intends to vote today on the first bill of the new Congress: a measure to impose on members the same personnel, civil rights and safety laws that govern individuals and private industry.

A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate after a series of end-of-term filibusters by Republicans.

A slower start is expected in the Senate because Democrats are exercising their option to block a first-day vote on legislation similar to the House bill.

Although Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas plans to bring the measure up for debate tomorrow morning, the Democrats will delay a vote until at least next week because they want time to offer amendments.

Senate Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota said his party will offer as a substitute a broader congressional reform package that also includes two other proposals killed in ,, last year's Republican filibusters.

One would impose new disclosure requirements on lobbyists and ban gifts to lawmakers. The other is designed to reform campaign finance laws.

"Democrats are ready to go to work," Mr. Daschle told a news conference yesterday. "We want the 104th Congress to be productive."

Mr. Dole has already announced he will resist the addition of the lobbyist proposal and the campaign finance reforms, which do not have broad bipartisan support.

But Democrats in both houses believe they can score political points in raising the ethics issues that the Republicans have left out of their otherwise ambitious agenda.

In that regard, some House Democrats will try to make hay out of the $4.5 million book advance payment that new House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia recently decided to give up under pressure from fellowRepublicans as well as Democrats.

"That incident pointed out the need to put some sort of restrictions on the amount of book advance that it is appropriate for a member of Congress to accept," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.

The proposal, he said, would limit an advance to about one-third of the annual congressional salary, now set at $133,600.

Currently, House members are limited to outside income of no more than $15,000 annually. But there is no limit on book royalties or advance payments from publishers.

Mr. Cardin and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland will be among the Democrats fighting today to block the change in House rules requiring the three-fifths majority to increase income tax rates.

Republicans back the change because they believe Congress turns too often to raising taxes instead of cutting spending when revenues fall short.

Rep. John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who takes over as chairman of the House Republican Conference, observed that the Senate has a rule requiring a three-fifths majority to cut taxes if it would result in an increase in the deficit.

"The new Republican majority will make it as tough to raise taxes in the House as it is to cut taxes in the Senate," Mr. Boehner said.

But many Democrats, led by former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler, argue both provisions are unconstitutional because the Constitution specifically spells out a limited set of circumstances in which a super majority is required -- such as overriding a presidential veto.

Further, the GOP proposal would affect only the type of tax increases that are the most difficult to enact -- income tax rate increases. Republicans debated and abandoned the notion of trying to include changes in tax deductions or tax credits, which create what many voters consider tax loopholes.

Increases in gas taxes or virtually any other form of federal levy would still be possible with a simple majority vote under the new GOP rule.

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