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Elections Make Republicans Abandon Long-Standing Promise

By Janet Hook
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Formally abandoning a crown jewel of their once-glittering conservative agenda, Republican leaders said Wednesday they would not even try to pass a tax cut before this fall's elections.

Prospects for even a modest tax cut - such as the GOP's cherished $500-per-child tax credit for families - have faded under the shadow of presidential politics and a higher political priority for members of Congress: their desire to adjourn early to campaign full time for this fall's crucial House and Senate elections.

"I would like to see a tax cut proposal but I'm a realist," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters as Congress returned from its monthlong August recess. "The reality is I don't think we can get it done in September."

The shelving of the tax cut also reflects the GOP leaders' calculation that the tax issue will work better for their party as a campaign issue than as fodder for another round of legislative bickering with President Clinton.

"The reality is if (the voters want a tax cut) they need to make a decision on Nov. 5," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., after a meeting of House-Senate GOP leaders. "If we passed a real tax cut, President Clinton would veto it."

The shift on tax strategy is also a clear sign of just how vigorously GOP leaders are stripping their legislative agenda down to the bare essentials in hopes of adjourning by Sept. 27, a week earlier than planned previously.

The leadership decision to abandon the tax cut for the time being was not completely unexpected. For months, Republicans were divided about the political wisdom of pursuing a tax cut, in part because it was so hard to come up with offsetting spending cuts or tax increases. But Wednesday's statements by Lott and Gingrich marked the first time that GOP leaders explicitly wrote off all hope for action this year.

Congress last year approved a $245 billion, seven-year tax cut as the GOP's landmark bill to balance the budget by 2002. The measure included credits for families with children, capital gains rate reductions and other breaks for business and individuals.

But Clinton vetoed the legislation, arguing that it would cut too deeply into social programs and complicate efforts to reduce the budget deficit.

Before Congress began its August recess, there had been some talk of pushing the family tax credit and other modest breaks in separate legislation this fall - even if only to force another Clinton veto.

GOP leaders said it was essentially a logistical decision to drop the decision. It would be nearly impossible to do a tax cut quickly because lax Senate rules offer many opportunities for delay and amendment. GOP leaders say that they would also expect a Clinton veto.

Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on 9/6/96.
Volume 116, Number 39.
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