WASHINGTON _ One of the hardest things for a lawmaker to do is
vote for a tax increase. So when the House tax-writing committee
took up President Clinton's controversial tax package last week,
few members of Congress rushed to praise it.
Even Democrats, who largely support their president's economic
agenda, muttered unhappily about parts of the package,
particularly the energy provisions.
But Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., is one who admits that such a
tax is necessary if Clinton is to keep his promise to reduce the
federal debt by $500 billion over five years.
Nevertheless, supporting it was a task that the 61-year-old
congressman, who has faithfully represented the interests of
Michigan's giant auto industry since he was elected in 1982, took
"Nobody likes this tax," he said. "I don't like it. But the
question is, can you do serious deficit reduction without an
The proposed tax on the heat content of major fuels could
raise nearly $71 billion over five years _ a major revenue source
for Clinton's economic plans second only in size to proposed
increases in personal income tax on the affluent.
When fully phased in by 1996, the energy tax is estimated to
raise gasoline prices by 7.5 cents a gallon and add $2.25 a month
to the average electric bill.
The Treasury Department said that for a typical family of four
earning $40,000 a year, the total direct and indirect costs of
the energy tax would be about $320 a year.
"Nobody said passing a major deficit reduction package would
be easy or simple," Levin said. "But if the Btu (British thermal
unit) tax were pulled out of it, the whole thing would
The energy tax under consideration would affect virtually
every individual and business in the country, although some
existing programs to help the poor would be expanded to soften
the bite they would feel from the energy tax, the administration
Last Thursday, the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee,
on which Levin sits, rejected an attempt to kill the energy tax.
It was a party line vote _ 24 Democrats against, 14 Republicans
for killing it.
This week, some Democrats will be seeking exemptions from the
Btu tax for home-state interests _ such as natural gas in the
Southwest and the agriculture and aluminum industries in the
Midwest and Northwest _ setting the stage for more difficult
votes for committee members. …