Only a few weeks after taxpayers began feeling the effects of the largest tax cut in history, Congress is putting together the biggest peacetime tax increase ever.
And it is doing it with surprisingly quiet opposition.
Republicans, the traditional foes of high taxes, are leading the move to raise $98 billion in revenue over the next three years. They argue that it is the ''responsible'' action to take to reduce the federal deficit. Congress last month voted a budget that requires it to meet tax and spending targets and hold the deficit to just over $100 billion.
A speedily crafted but complex Senate bill would raise money by closing, taxing cigarettes and telephone calls, charging corporations more, and forcing more tax evaders to pay their share.
The bill heads for almost certain passage this week in the Republican-controlled Senate, after an attempt by Democrats to water down parts of the bill was defeated Wednesday. Prospects for passage are almost equally as good in the Democratic House, which is now taking up the tax issue.
Despite the massive size of the tax proposal, the public outcry has been low-keyed. Among the reasons:
* The bill, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee chairman Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, would not touch the 10 percent income tax cuts won by the Reagan administration for 1982 and 1983. The centerpiece of the President's economic program, those cuts took effect this month, as American workers found their take-home pay envelopes slightly thicker.
* Most of the proposed tax increases may seem remote to the public. Senator Dole avoided the call for a single, highly visible item, such as an energy or gasoline tax, that would touch off a storm of criticism. Instead, his bill hits a whole range of interests, most of them corporate.
The Dole bill ''reverberates no farther than K Street,'' says a Democratic House staf member who is close to tax issues, referring to the Washington street where most of the corporate interests have headquarters.
* Republicans are moving so fast that special interests have little time to protest. While in past years the Finance Committee has written tax bills only after extensive public hearings and bipartisan meetings, this year hearings were omitted, and the bill drafted in a closed-door Republican meeting.
''It came out of the blue,'' says David H. Miller, tax lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). It took the NAM several days to examine the bill and focus on two proposals that, according to Mr. Miller, would be a ''disaster'' for business investments.
Even the Senate debate has been speeded up, limited to only 20 hours.
''I remember when tax bills took three weeks (of debate),'' said Senate majority whip Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska this week as he blamed the congressional budget process with its deadlines for putting a ''straitjacket'' on the Senate.
* Democrats, meanwhile, are doing little to slow down a tax hike led by Republicans in an election year. In the House, sources from both parties report that Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois is working closely with Republicans.
If the President and congressional Republicans stay out front in their support for the package, Democrats are certain to produce enough votes to pass a House bill much like the Dole version. The bill drops at least two campaign plums into Democratic laps. Not only can they blame the Republicans for raising taxes, but they will also point to the Reagan-backed increase as a sign that the President's economic program has failed.
Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee has discounted the tax bill as a major political issue. ''I don't think it will play at all,'' he told reporters this week.
Although still in some disarray, opponents of the tax increases are beginning to circulate views that the bill would slow down savings and investments and hence the economic recovery.
Robert C. Brown, executive vice-president of the Tax Foundation, charges that ''while these provisions raise $21 billion (in 1983), there is no guarantee that the deficit's going to be narrowed.''
Mr. Brown, who was vice-president of the California Tax Payers' Association when President Reagan was governor of that state, says, ''If Reaganomics doesn't work, it'll be because they backed away.''
''We've talked about the stop-and-go policies of the previous administration, '' says Brown. ''This is stop-and-go. This is a yo-yo.''
That sentiment will almost certainly be echoed by some conservative Republicans in the House. Right now lawmakers appear more concerned about raising money to at least take out some of the federal deficit, looming over the