The House on Wednesday night approved a Republican plan containing the heftiest collection of tax breaks in 14 years, overwhelming Democrats who denounced the package as a fiscally reckless gift to the nation’s moneyed class.
The 246-to-188 vote, largely along party lines, put the House’s stamp on a plan that would reduce tax revenue by $189 billion over five years, with fully $105 billion of that in the form of a $500-a-child credit to taxpaying families. Billions of dollars more would go to breaks aimed at retirees, investors and corporations.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which is far less inclined toward major tax reduction this year, but whose leader, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, faces strong pressure from within his own party to follow the House’s lead.
But the Senate and Dole were in the shadows on Wednesday night. Wednesday belonged to House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the architect of his party’s success.
He began it in symbolic fashion, reviewing a parade of circus elephants across the Capitol grounds, and ended it with the passage of what he has called the crown jewel of his party’s political manifesto, the Contract with America.
“This is a good bill,” Gingrich said late Wednesday night. “It is paid for. It helps to create jobs. It strengthens families. it does what we ought to be doing. And it’s the last step in the Contract.”
Democrats tried four times to block or change the bill.
By a vote of 229 to 204, they failed to defeat a crucial procedural rule, setting the terms for the day’s debate, that would have had the practical effect of keeping the tax bill from reaching the floor. They tried to replace it with their own substitute, written by the minority leader, Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, but scores of Democrats joined Republicans to trounce that effort, 313 to 119.
They then tried to send the bill back to the Ways and Means Committee with orders to trim the breaks given wealthier taxpayers. But scores of Democrats joined Republicans to defeat that, too, 265 to 168.
Finally, they sought to block the bill on technical grounds, arguing that two clauses in the bill were actually tax increases, requiring approval by three-fifths of the House under the new House rules that Republicans changed in January with the explicit aim of discouraging tax hikes.
Three-fifths was a margin that Republicans could not hope to amass. But the chair ruled that the Democratic complaint was groundless.
With the action on Wednesday night, Republicans insured that they leave on Congress’s spring break this weekend armed with the claim that they have fulfilled a fall campaign promise to vote on every item in the contract. Moreover, they will carry the rosiest sort of political news: a promise of the biggest tax break since Congress voted a $748 billion fiveyear tax cut in 1981, in President Ronald Reagan’s first year in office.
Democrats were left to cultivate what they hope will be a major issue in the next campaign: a perception that Republicans are using their newfound power to shift billions from the poor to the rich.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: How they voted Here is how Pacific Northwest representatives voted in the 246-188 roll call Wednesday by which the House passed the Republican tax cut bill. A “yes” vote is a vote to pass the bill. IDAHO Republicans - Chenoweth, Y; Crapo, Y. MONTANA Democrats - Williams, N. WASHINGTON Republicans - Dunn, Y; Hastings, Y; Metcalf, Y; Nethercutt, Y; Smith, Y; Tate, Y; White, Y. Democrats - Dicks, N; McDermott, N. Associated Press