Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Restaurants Lobby to Save Deductibility of Business Meals

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Restaurants Lobby to Save Deductibility of Business Meals

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lobbyists for America's restaurant industry are hoping to pull off a political feat even trickier than making a perfect souffle: rescuing the deductibility of business meals from President Clinton's budget knife.

Congress may have been out of town the past 10 days for the Fourth of July recess, but lawmakers could not escape the pleas of restaurateurs who argue that business meals are vital to their bottom line. Those who will be involved in closed-door negotiations beginning this week were particular targets.

Restaurant executives and servers picketed outside the Manhattan office of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. Meetings were arranged with the offices of a dozen key lawmakers, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill. Television spots were aired in at least 15 cities featuring a Maryland waitress who fears she may lose her job.

"They've been relentless _ letters, meetings, calls, rallies," said Patti Stinger, grassroots coordinator for the National Restaurant Association.

What makes the undertaking so difficult is that Clinton wants to limit business meals, now 80 percent tax deductible, to only a 50 percent write-off. The move would bring in $16 billion over five years, and the "three-martini lunch" is an easy target for a president eager to reinforce his populist credentials.

A Democratic congressional official said the White House has made it clear it wants Congress to leave the provision alone.

But restaurants are fighting back, and the recipe includes lobbying's favorite ingredients: a grassroots appeal that portrays low-income waitresses and minority employees _ not fat-cat businessmen _ as Clinton's victims, and a disputed study that claims the industry will lose 165,000 jobs if the provision passes.

"Our people are in the hospitality business. They try to keep very cordial relationships with their members of Congress," said Mark Gorman, a lobbyist for the restaurant association. "But things have changed, and they're mad. I've never seen it like this."

The battleground is a conference committee that will begin meeting this week to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of a package of tax increases and spending cuts intended to cut $500 billion from the federal deficit over the next five years. …

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