While Rep. Gingrich (R., Ga.), fresh from a week of publicity that would do the William Morris Agency proud, pushes for non-stop action in his first 100 days as House speaker, the new chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee will be facing off with advertisers, agencies and media concerned about their tax status.
That meeting will come on Friday the 13th, on Chairman Bill Archer's home turf in Houston.
Rep. Archer is to meet with up to a dozen representatives from the Ad Tax Coalition. The coalition consists of 11 trade groups, ranging from the American Association of Advertising Agencies to the National Association of Broadcasters to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
The coalition's reason for existing is simple: to head off any attempts by the federal government to tax advertising or to restrict its current status as a fully deductible business expense.
The designated point man for the coalition at the quickly arranged meeting will be Richard Johnson, chairman-publisher of the Houston Chronicle and a longtime friend of Rep. Archer.
What it's like to suddenly vault from being the ranking minority member on Ways & Means to the committee's chairmanship can be gleaned from Rep. Archer's suddenly non-committal attitude toward advertising. Rep. Archer, at a 1992 meeting with ad industry representatives, expressed strong support for the industry and for keeping the taxman at bay, said Jeff Perlman, senior VP at the American Advertising Federation.
Now, said another industry representative, Rep. Archer is unwilling to commit himself, pro or con.
"When you become a chairman like he has, you're suddenly out of the ranks of the reflexive pro-business attitude that characterizes most Republicans, and have to acknowledge that you have other responsibilities and must be careful about making any commitments," the industry representative said. "After all, advertising remains one of 20 revenue-raising options on a list from the Congressional Budget Office."
Mr. Perlman said near-term meetings have been slated with two other Ways & Means members, and as many as nine such sessions are likely this year.
"There are six or seven arguments that we usually pose when trying to relay to these people the value of advertising-that current tax policy ... to treat advertising as any other business expense is sound; that advertising is a catalyst for competition, supports public access to news and programming, and others," Mr. Perlman said.
If the Ad Tax Coalition appeared to be reacting with alacrity to the power shift on Capitol Hill, that would be in keeping with the initial pace of the new Congress.
The Newt Agers have arrived.