Senate majority leader Robert Dole, continuing his push for deep cuts in the federal deficit, said that he would accept a minimum tax on corporations in return for a one-year freeze on social security. Departing from his earlier rejection of any tax hikes in the budget for next year, the Kansas Republican said, ``If the minimum tax is offered on the House floor and there is a tremendous bipartisan vote for it, that changes everything.''
He also indicated that only White House pressure kept tax increases out of the Senate-passed budget earlier this month.
``I know for a fact that we would have had another 15 or 20 Democrats on our package if we could do something on revenues,'' Dole said. The GOP budget passed on a tie-breaker vote by the vice-president and with only one Democrat.
``I think there was some justification for that,'' he said of the minimum tax. ``But that wasn't our call. The President said, `No taxes.' ''
The Dole comments, at a breakfast yesterday with reporters, came as the Democratic House prepared to take up a budget proposal. The Democratic plan has no tax increases, and it also leaves social security untouched, while the Senate-passed version would freeze social security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for one year.
A group of House members, however, is proposing an amendment to set a minimum corporate tax and freeze COLAs, thus cutting the federal deficit by $75 billion next year, according to backers. The proposed Senate budget cut would be $56 billion.
House leaders in both parties have rejected the politically risky freeze, which would affect 35.5 million social security recipients. And both sides have been wary of tax increases in view of President Reagan's adamant opposition.
Rep. Marvin Leath (D) of Texas, one of the cosponsors of the freeze-tax proposal, called it the ``realistic approach'' that members like on a ``one-to-one basis.'' Democrats on the House Budget Committee, meeting in private, defeated it by only a two-vote margin.
However, a victory on the House floor would be a major surprise, and Senator Dole cautioned that he did not expect passage of a minimum tax in the budget. But he called it a popular idea.
``I don't know anybody who wants corporations to go out and make a profit and not pay taxes,'' he said.
Dole conceded that Reagan administration officials might want to save the minimum tax for their tax reform bill, to be unveiled next week. Other proponents of tax reform, including Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, have said a minimum tax passed now would be a roadblock to overall tax reform.
Dole was pessimistic about passage of the Reagan tax reform this year unless ``there really is this groundswell'' of support and an all-out presidential effort. ``The calendar's going to get in the way of completion this year,'' he said, adding that the congressional agenda is already full and that tax reform may have to wait until next year.
Although he gave a lukewarm endorsement to reform, the majority leader wondered whether supporters would lose enthusiasm once the fine print is released.
Dole also said yesterday that Mr. Reagan has retained his influence on Capitol Hill and that the controversy over the President's visit to a German military cemetery at Bitburg indicated only a breaking-in period for the new White House staff.
But he charged that Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger had damaged his standing on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Weinberger angered some Senate Republicans by making a strong plea for defense spending while the Senate was writing its budget. Later, as the Democratic House was forming its budget package, the defense secretary announced that the Pentagon had $4 billion in unspent funds.