In 1952, under a Democratic president, no Republican and only two Democrats in the Senate voted for a House measure to let members of Congress take all their Washington living expenses as a tax deduction. How times have changed. Last week, under a Republican president, 37 Republicans and 13 Democrats voted for such an unlimited tax break. This time it was the House that evidently had too much class to grant Congress a backdoor pay increase while asking so many other Americans to balance the budget on their backs.
Now, as in 1952, a House-Senate conference will have to arrive at a compromise. The 1952 compromise that has lasted for three decades was to allow a tax deduction, but only up to $3,000 a year. A conference committee today might conclude that inflation calls for some adjustment in this, though, as one Republican senator noted, there is no lack of candidates at election time even at the present rate. Unquestionably all the wrong signals would be sent, even under a tax-cutting administration, by imposing no ceiling at all. It's estimated this would give the average member of Congress an annual deduction of about $13,500.
Ironically, Senate Republicans introduced and put over the tax break on the very day their man in the White House was using part of his televised budget speech to cautiously introduce the subject of reducing tax breaks as a means of cutting budget deficits. The whole gamut of "tax expenditure" revenue losses from deductions and credits is ripe for careful pruning. The Senate does not help matters by trying to hang presents for itself on the Christmas tree