WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party officially "welcomed" President Reagan's proposal Tuesday to dramatically rewrite the federal tax code and joined him in urging public support, but warned that it will not function merely as a "rubber stamp."
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, who was chosen to offer the Democrats' official nationally televised response, said: "If the President's plan provides real relief for middle-income taxpayers, Democrats will follow his lead and try to hold his package together."
But the veteran congressman, who intends to begin committee hearings Thursday on the heavily lobbied issue of tax reform, served notice that he regards the President's proposal only as "a starting point" from which to develop an even "fairer" plan.
At the same time, Rostenkowski lauded Reagan's commitment to the cause.
"Every year politicians get up and promise to make the tax code fairer and simpler, (and) every year we seem to slip further behind. . . . But this time there's a difference," he said. "This time it's a Republican President who's bucking his party's tradition as a protector of big business and the wealthy. His words and feelings go back to Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy. But the commitment comes from Ronald Reagan. And that's so important--and welcome."
The Democrat urged viewers, "If you've never stood up for your rights as a taxpayer--if you've never voiced your frustration and anger over the unfairness of today's tax system--sit down and write a letter to your representative and senator."
Reactions to the President's plan generally were mixed elsewhere in Congress.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), co-sponsor with Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) of a Democratic tax simplification plan, said that Reagan's proposal retains too many tax preferences for business. And he asserted that the middle class would wind up paying for these tax breaks.
But Bradley, like Rostenkowski, was "elated" by the President's commitment. "When I first proposed tax reform four years ago, people laughed," Bradley said. "Tonight, they laugh no more."
Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), co-sponsor with Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.) of a rival Republican plan, said he opposes Reagan's proposal because the top tax bracket for individuals is too high. "Keeping the rate at 35% would unnecessarily sacrifice jobs, investment, economic growth and revenues," the conservative congressman contended.
Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), chairman of the key Senate Finance Committee, through which any tax reform bill must pass, said he was "all in all quite well pleased" with Reagan's plan. Expressing more optimism than other congressional leaders recently have, Packwood contended that "prospects for passage this year are excellent."
Both California senators welcomed the Reagan announcement. Democrat Alan Cranston said he was pleased that the President is "in favor of overhauling the income tax system" but that he favors a Democratic alternative. Republican Pete Wilson called the Reagan plan "enormously attractive" but said he does not favor eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes as the plan proposes.