- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

Republicans will bring three sharply focused tax-cut proposals to the House floor within a month, hoping to keep pressure on Democrats in this pivotal election year and give incumbent Republicans popular campaign issues.
The Republican leadership is preparing measures to eliminate the 3 percent federal telephone excise tax, abolish the estate and gift tax, and increase the annual limit on tax-deferred contributions to individual retirement accounts.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, outlined the proposals to House Republicans at a closed-door meeting yesterday at the Capitol.
"It keeps us on offense," said Mr. Hastert's spokesman, John Feehery. "The president is going to have a hard time explaining why he doesn't want to do these things."
All three measures are part of a strategy announced in January to keep a steady stream of incremental tax cuts on the House floor, rather than passing a single, omnibus tax-cut plan.
Last year, House Republicans approved a 10-year plan cutting taxes by $792 billion with hundreds of different provisions, but President Clinton vetoed the package. Republicans tried to focus the debate on the specifics, and Democrats kept the attention on the overall price tag, which polls showed Americans thought was excessive.
"The number sounded so large, it inspired incomprehension and, in some minds, apprehension," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, wrote in a recent letter to Republican colleagues.
"When the American people knew what was in the tax bill, they supported it 68 percent," House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma said yesterday. In January, he suggested Republicans "send it back to [the president] piece by piece."
A senior House Republican leadership aide said all three measures should be introduced by the end of the first week of June, but the order isn't set yet.
On Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, Texas Republican, mentioned the telephone excise tax and IRA expansions, but as part of a broader agenda that included cuts to capital-gains taxes, a repeal of the alternative minimum tax, and easing of taxes on Social Security benefits.
"I have to work all this out with Chairman Archer later this week," Mr. Armey said yesterday.
Democrats say the piecemeal approach is not being done in an honest effort to inform the public, but rather to sneak the original $792 billion plan through Congress slice by slice and thus obscure its real impact on the budget.
Republicans hold a 222-211 advantage over Democrats in the House, with one independent who tends to vote with Republicans and another who tends to vote with Democrats.
The Republican-led Congress tried last year to phase out the estate and gift tax, called by opponents the "death tax," as part of the overall $792 billion tax-cut package. A pending measure of tax cuts for small businesses includes estate-tax relief, but Mr. Armey said yesterday the new proposal would go further by eliminating the tax altogether.
So far this year, Congress has passed, and the president signed into law, a repeal of the earnings limit on Social Security, actually a benefit increase, but portrayed as a tax cut. The House has passed, but the Senate is still considering, a package of tax cuts for married couples.
The House and Senate have also approved tax cuts attached to health care legislation, a minimum-wage increase and education reform.
The telephone and teletype excise tax was first imposed to fund the Spanish-American War in 1898 and today raises $5.8 billion a year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
"We would like to finally settle the Spanish-American War and take that tax off your phone bill," Mr. Armey told reporters this week.
But much of what the House does may never see the light of day in the Senate.
In the House, the Republicans' slim majority should allow them to pass the tax-cut measures. But in the Senate, where rules are designed to protect a minority's right to debate, Democrats have successfully bottled up the marriage-penalty tax-cut bill and could similarly block consideration of other tax-cut legislation.
Democrats have specific objections to some of the provisions. For example, they say the Republican marriage bill is overly generous to couples already better off under the tax code than if single. Democrats also see no reason to help Republicans implement a strategy intended to embarrass them and the president.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, has blocked Democrats' efforts to add amendments to the marriage-tax bill, saying most of the proposals are not related to the tax cut.

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