Tax Bill in Limbo as House Refuses to Even Consider It : Furious White House Presses GOP Leaders

Times Staff Writers

White House officials, furious with House Republican leaders over the tax revision bill’s dramatic setback in the House, pressed them Wednesday to reverse the outcome and breathe new life into the bill at the top of President Reagan’s legislative agenda.

“Everyone here at the White House is pretty upset with the leadership in the House on our side,” a top official said. “It’s one thing to differ with the President, but it’s another to work very hard against him knowing it’s his No. 1 domestic priority.”

In what he called “an emotional statement,” the official said the performance of House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and Assistant Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who actively opposed Reagan, “isn’t very ingratiating.”


Congressional elections are less than a year away, the official said, and “these are the same people who are going to come back asking for help from a very popular President. That’s very tough for us to take.”

Although the official stopped short of directly threatening to withhold Reagan’s campaign support from recalcitrant Republicans, there was perceptible anger in the White House about the treatment accorded the tax reform measure. Only 14 of 182 House Republicans voted to take up the bill on the House floor.

“Whatever satisfaction they’ve gotten from twisting the President’s tail, that’s over,” the official vowed. “Tomorrow we need to get back to business.”

Last-Ditch Effort

In a last-ditch effort to turn things around, White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan huddled with Michel and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) at the White House on Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, Reagan entertained more than a dozen of his Republican colleagues in the Oval Office and made phone calls to many more to round up the necessary votes.

“We’re scrambling to develop a strategy,” one Treasury official admitted. “I think everybody was surprised by this vote.”

A White House aide said Reagan believed that his lobbying to reverse the defeat was going well. The aide, holding out the hope that a second vote might be permitted today, said: “He felt the climate might be right when we need it.”


Although the bill that is hung up in the House has the backing of the Democratic leadership, many Democrats were gleeful as they watched Reagan scramble to avert political disaster over the issue that was supposed to be the centerpiece of his second term. “This is the first day of the lame duck term,” a Democratic lobbyist exclaimed.

40 to 45 Pledges

The bill foundered not on its own merits but on the rule that would set the terms for the bill’s debate on the House floor. A White House political adviser said that aides had exacted pledges from 40 to 45 House Republicans to vote for the tax bill but that no one had thought to ask for a similar pledge on the rule.

The 11th-hour White House lobbying campaign had some glitches. Rostenkowski, Reagan’s ally and the chief author of the House version of the bill, tried to reach Reagan soon after the House vote and was reported by an aide to be “absolutely incensed” to find himself on the phone with Chief of Staff Regan instead.

Still, White House officials were optimistic that they could prevail if they could get a second chance. “There’s no reason for it not to be turned around,” one said. “Particularly on our side of the aisle, it’s simply a matter of leadership.”

Procedural Vote

Their assumption is that Reagan can persuade the House Republican leadership to allow a positive procedural vote simply to move the bill onto the floor even though Michel and Lott will remain opposed to the bill itself.

“We’ve always known it would be tough,” a top official said about the prognosis for the tax bill. “But, damn it, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have a chance.”


Reagan has been struggling against the sentiment of his own party since he introduced tax revision as the major domestic priority of his second term. After a “fall offensive” of speeches around the country failed to generate grass-roots enthusiasm, some political aides tried to persuade him to drop the issue.

One GOP critic called the issue “a turkey,” saying that Republicans believe that “the smarter strategy at this stage is to dump it.”