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GOP Budget, Repeal of Gas Tax Hike Advance in House

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation Thursday to roll back the federal gasoline tax by 4.3 cents a gallon, while House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) vowed action by the full House within two weeks.

Early today, the House Budget Committee approved a Republican spending outline, but its chairman, John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), rejected a call from President Clinton to restart stalled talks aimed at balancing the budget in 2002.

The Senate, however, remained deadlocked on the gas tax issue, as well as on a Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage. As a result, it is far from certain whether either bill will become law--or simply end up as partisan fodder in the upcoming presidential campaign between Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the presumptive Republican nominee.

Further attempts to resolve the Senate impasse are expected on Tuesday, giving both Clinton and Dole an opening to exploit the controversy this weekend as they hit the campaign trail.

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The continued stalemate so frayed tempers among GOP senators this week that some vented their frustration by directing it toward Dole, sources said.

Dole himself alluded to the anger during floor remarks. Referring to the Senate GOP weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, Dole said: “I had a little trouble explaining [the gridlock] to my policy luncheon yesterday.”

The tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the House, reacting to the recent upsurge in gasoline prices, approved the repeal of the 1993 tax hike, 23 to 13, largely along party lines. The rollback is designed to be temporary, until Dec. 31.

Many committee Democrats expressed concern that oil companies may not pass on the savings to consumers. Only two of the panel’s Democrats voted for the repeal.

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Senate Democrats also have such concerns. In addition, they are questioning whether the Republicans have come up with sufficient ways to compensate for the lost revenue to prevent the nation’s budget deficit from increasing. The repeal is expected to cost nearly $3 billion in revenue by Dec. 31.

When Dole proposed the repeal two weeks ago, it seemed headed for quick adoption. But the issue became bogged down in presidential politics, which also have held up action on a plan to raise the minimum wage and a GOP labor-law proposal that would allow creation of worker-management councils outside formal union channels.

Democrats have demanded that each of the three issues be taken up as a separate piece of legislation. But Dole has insisted that each be considered as an amendment to an unrelated bill.

The effect of Dole’s plan is that Clinton would have to sign or veto the bill in its entirety, even though he opposes the labor law initiative but favors the minimum wage increase and the gas tax repeal.

The House Budget Committee approved the GOP budget plan along strict party lines, 23 to 18, after completing a session that began early Thursday afternoon. The Senate Budget Committee began and completed its session Thursday, approving a nearly identical budget on a partisan vote of 13 to 11.

Congressional Democrats favored Clinton’s budget, offered earlier this year, and condemned the Republican plan. But the two sides have narrowed the gap since last year.

The GOP’s 1997 fiscal year budget seeks a $122-billion tax cut and about $700 billion in savings, enough to end annual federal deficits by 2002.


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