President Reagan, making a final appeal as the Senate prepared for a symbolic test of support for his budget package, asked a business group Monday to help “knock some sense into the spenders” and to “hold a few feet to the fire for me.”
In the Senate, Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) told reporters that he plans to force an initial vote today on the fiscal 1986 plan, which would cut about $52 billion from a federal deficit that is projected to approach $230 billion next year.
Dole postponed the vote twice last week because he said that he did not have the support he needed. When asked whether the package now has enough votes to pass, he said: “I don’t know. I hope so.”
Sees Democracy at Stake
Reagan urged the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the package’s leading proponents, to continue its lobbying. “To put our plan into effect, we’ll have to let the opposition know that the American people have had enough,” the President said. “The budget this year is more than a matter of balance sheets . . . . What is at stake is nothing less than our democracy itself.”
But while the President was asking the chamber to “judge (the package) in its entirety,” it was clear that the plan’s fate could hinge on the most controversial of its individual elements. Dole, struggling to hold his 53-member Republican majority together, reportedly has agreed to restore funding for some of the smaller programs that are important to the constituents of key senators who might otherwise oppose the package.
Even if the budget plan survives the vote today, it still may be gutted by a series of amendments--some of which Dole expects to be offered by Republicans themselves.
Benefits Amendment Possible
Democrats, for example, had hoped to offer an amendment to eliminate the package’s most politically explosive provision: a curb on Social Security cost-of-living increases. The package would hold the increase--now expected to equal the rate of inflation--to two percentage points less than inflation, with a guarantee of at least a 2% hike.
However, Dole said that he would use his parliamentary powers as majority leader to ensure that Republicans score the political points for any effort to restore Social Security funding. He is expected to allow Republican Sens. Alfonse M. D’Amato of New York or Paula Hawkins of Florida--both of whom will face reelection in 1986 in states with large groups of elderly voters--to introduce an amendment that would eliminate cuts in Social Security spending.
Dole said that he did not see any point in allowing Democrats an opportunity to “do surgery” on the package when they are likely to vote against it in the end. By providing Republicans with political cover on the most divisive individual issues, Dole clearly hopes to win their support on a final vote on the entire package--even if that vote reverses some of the stands they had earlier taken on specific elements of the package.
“We think it’s important that we win it,” Dole said.
Democratic Plan Readied
Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) acknowledged that Dole has the power to head off almost any initiative the Democrats hope to present in the early rounds of the budget debate, but he said that he is drafting a Democratic alternative he will try to offer later this week.
Separately, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) described the outlook for the budget package as “a standoff.” Reagan, Grassley told reporters at a luncheon, “is perceived to be part of the problem,” making the deficit worse with “a big increase in military expenditures” and the Administration’s first-term tax cuts.
However, Reagan insisted in his speech before the Chamber of Commerce that tax cuts are not the central cause of the deficit: “On the contrary . . . government revenues are actually on the rise. The deficit problem is a problem of spending--spending without direction or discipline, spending that in the past 20 years has burgeoned absolutely out of control.”