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Insight : VIEW FROM WASHINGTON / JAMES RISEN : Don't Look for Moderation From the New House Leadership

November 13, 1994|JAMES RISEN | JAMES RISEN writes about the economy from The Times' Washington bureau

On Monday, Bill Archer was just another Republican bomb thrower, an obscure, 24-year back bencher with radical ideas about tax and economic policy. And no one outside his Texas district ever paid much attention to what he had to say.

But on Wednesday, Bill Archer was poised to become chairman of the single most influential committee in the House of Representatives--the tax-writing Ways and Means panel--and suddenly Archer had become President Clinton's worst nightmare: a Republican bomb thrower with real power.

The Republican revolution that swept the nation Tuesday has turned Washington on its head, humbling mighty Democratic powerbrokers while transforming long-suffering Republicans, many of whom have never had to worry about actually enacting their proposals, into the governing class.

Forty years in the wilderness had bred in frustrated House Republicans like Archer a willingness to pursue proposals far outside the mainstream. But now, if he and other long-ignored lawmakers actually try to fulfill their fondest legislative dreams, America is in for a Reagan-style lurch to the right that will leave Clinton and his economic policies in the dust. For the Clinton White House now, the only real hope is that the Republican leadership in the Senate, which is far more moderate, will act as a brake on the most extreme measures that emerge from the House.

Don't look for moderation from anyone in the House leadership, however. Most of the new Republican leaders, starting with future House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, are supply-side ideologues who see their electoral mandate as a second chance to finish the job Ronald Reagan started.

Texas Rep. Dick Armey, for example, who is likely to replace Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) as House majority leader, is a full-throated advocate of Reaganomics. Armey, along with Gingrich, was an architect of the Republican "Contract With America" that calls for steep personal and business tax cuts and greater defense spending, coupled with a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. Armey, a former economics professor, vows to fire Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office, and can be expected to stock the CBO and the professional staff of the influential Joint Tax Committee with conservative economists and analysts who won't laugh off supply-side theory the way Reischauer has.

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Meanwhile, Ohio Rep. John Kasich, who is likely to become chairman of the House Budget Committee, is a slash-and-burn conservative who crafted legislation--nearly passed the House earlier this year--calling for adding $90 billion more in budget cuts over five years to the Clinton deficit plan. The measure was defeated only after an intense effort by the White House, which warned that it would virtually shut down the domestic side of the federal government.

And at the House Banking Committee, new Chairman Jim Leach of Iowa is likely to give the committee staff a hunting license to begin an intense investigation of the Whitewater scandal.

Yet it is at Ways and Means where dramatic policy shifts may first become visible.

Archer is assuming command from a pair of old-line Democrats, Rep. Sam Gibbons of Florida and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, who were both closely allied with the Clinton Administration. Until he was forced to resign his chairmanship after being indicted in a corruption scandal, Rostenkowski was perhaps Clinton's closest supporter in the House; Gibbons, who took over as acting chairman this year, picked up where Rostenkowski left off, helping move a Clinton-style health care plan smoothly through his committee.

Forget about all that with Archer. In an interview, the congressman from Houston said he has trouble with income taxes--any income taxes. He simply doesn't believe in them.

"I would hope down the road that we could find an alternative to income taxes so we can eliminate them," Archer says. "I know it is not something we can do in this term, but we have to begin to think creatively."

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In fact, Archer hasn't cared for any tax bill passed by Congress since the 1981 tax cut that began the Reagan revolution. Now he is furiously working with his staff on new proposals for the next Congress. High on Archer's list is a broad-based consumption tax, which he would impose only in conjunction with a sharp reduction in capital gains and income taxes; Archer is also intrigued by Armey's proposal for a "flat tax" that would reduce income tax rates across the board while eliminating loopholes.

While many economists argue that a shift to consumption taxes would be highly regressive, placing a greater burden on the poor and middle class, Archer dismisses such concerns as the product of hidebound liberal thinking. His goal is to unblock obstacles to savings, investment and job creation--then watch as supply-side theory goes into action with a vengeance.

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