Congressional Republicans, largely silent as President Clinton commanded the limelight for his policy goals earlier this month, spoke up Tuesday for two issues they hope will serve them well in the fall elections: taxes and education.
With the GOP-controlled Congress in recess, the president has had the field to himself, pushing plans for expansion of Medicare, additional child-care tax credits, and balancing the budget this year instead of 2002.
But Republicans, returning a week early for resumption of the 105th Congress next week, struck back Tuesday with proposals for a new round of tax cuts and education block grants to states, along with vouchers for low-income students who attend “unsafe” schools.
On the tax front, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, said he would produce a bill this spring to expand the 15 percent tax bracket to embrace some higher-income people, and start work on a radical overhaul of the federal tax system.
He proposed tax cuts estimated at $200 billion over the next 10 years, urging Congress to cap the national tax burden at 19 percent - down from 19.9 percent - of the gross domestic product.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and his allies laid out an eight-point plan to diminish the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education and provide tax breaks and direct assistance to families of school children.
“We have to give parents and children more opportunity, more choice,” Lott said in unveiling the Republican plan.
The key element of the GOP education package was a $10 billion federal block grant to state governors, who would have to distribute 95 percent of the money to local school districts to spend as they choose.
Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., said the districts probably would spend the money for such things as new computers, school repairs, additional teachers, teacher-competency testing and merit-pay bonuses for teachers.
The Republican plan also would permit the use of public funds - federal, state or local - to pay the tuition of any student who had been the victim of a violent crime at his school and wants to attend another school.
The Republican proposal did not include new money for higher education. “That’s not where the true crisis in American education is,” Coverdell said. “The crisis is in kindergarten through the 12th grade.”
Although Lott insisted Republicans did not want to “butt heads” with Clinton, the Republican plan revived a long-simmering dispute over federal school vouchers for lower-income children to attend private and parochial schools. Their plan, which the president opposes, would allow children living in low-income families and attending “unsafe” schools to receive tuition help to go to other schools of their choice.
The Republicans defined unsafe schools as ones with high rates of crime, drug use or disciplinary problems. As a pilot program, the GOP proposal would provide $75 million for 20 to 30 experimental voucher programs.
Even as Republicans moved to seize the policy initiative from Clinton, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., a probable presidential contender in 2000, offered a new version of his tax reform plan.
In a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California Tuesday, Gephardt called for a major restructuring of the federal income tax system to shift more of the burden from middle- and lower-income taxpayers to higher-income taxpayers.
He said that under his proposal, 62 percent of taxpayers would pay less than now, and 70 percent would pay 10 percent or less in federal taxes.
xxxx DUELING TAX CUTS Tax proposals jockeying for attention on Capitol Hill include: Expanding the 15 percent income tax bracket beyond the current ceiling of $24,650 for individuals and $41,200 for married couples filing jointly. Eliminating or reducing the so-called “marriage penalty,” which forces couples with two wage earners to pay more in federal taxes than they would if they were unmarried. Adjusting the alternative minimum tax, designed to ensure that wealthier individuals and corporations pay some taxes. Increasing the tax exemption for family farms, ranches and other large estates. Exempting from federal taxation the first $200 in interest and dividend income for individuals, $400 for joint filers. - New York Times