House Republican leaders charged Wednesday that party members who want to rewrite elements of the GOP tax-cut package have been seduced by the concerns of an insidious capital city and warned that their hold on power could be at stake in "a contest between America and Washington, D.C."
Faced with a possible insurrection by House Republicans who want to scale back a proposed family tax credit, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) tried to restore order by mobilizing public support for the package of tax cuts contained in the GOP's "contract with America."
But behind their admonishments lay a veiled threat that tinkering with the bill could cost them their jobs.
"Over this past weekend I saw some Republicans beginning to backslide and all I can say is I was there when people told President (George) Bush it was OK to raise taxes. It destroyed his presidency," Gingrich said during a town meeting televised nationally by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"I was there when the Establishment of this city said it was wonderful that Clinton wanted to raise taxes. It destroyed the (Democratic) majority of the House and the Senate. We gave our word to cut taxes."
Gingrich's comments were directed at a group of more than 100 House Republicans who have signed a letter asking him to allow significant changes in the Republican tax bill on the House floor.
On Tuesday, 102 Republicans--nearly half of the 230-member caucus--wrote to their leaders asking that eligibility for a $500-per-child tax credit be limited to families making less than $95,000, down from a $200,000 income-limit that Republican leaders have proposed. Lawmakers backing the change argued that the lower eligibility ceiling would help defuse Democratic criticism and save $12 billion to $14 billion of the $105 billion cost of the tax break over five years. The signers included 10 committee chairmen and 35 of 73 freshmen.
But on Wednesday, Gingrich and Armey had tough words for those seeking to amend the bill, suggesting that they had yielded to a Washington culture that craves higher taxes.
"The longer we're in this city, the more this city's passion for tax increases begins to affect people," said Gingrich. "Everybody believed in January (that) we ought to cut taxes. Almost everyone agreed in February we ought to cut taxes."
Armey, who also appeared on the chamber's telecast, blamed the new skepticism of Republicans on the effects of staying in Washington too long.
"Because we've been working so hard in Washington, we get too many of our members spending too much of the time in Washington and allow them too little of the time back in America, where we talk to real people," Armey said.
In internal leadership deliberations, Armey, who helped draft the House tax bill, is said to be staunchly opposed to changes in the measure. But he said Wednesday that, if GOP rank-and-file members "do not hear from America and instead continue to hear this constant drumbeat in Washington, then I'm afraid we may not have the votes" to pass the bill.