Budget Negotiations Near Collapse as Angry Conferees Exchange Insults

Times Staff Writer

House-Senate budget negotiations appeared near collapse Wednesday as conferees, seething with anger, called an abrupt end to an unusually bitter session without setting a date to resume talking.

"Frankly, everywhere I turn, I don't see a way to go," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said at the end of the meeting. "We'll call you back as soon as we have something to talk about."

House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said he is "disappointed that the Senate decided to pull away from the conference table. If President Reagan can negotiate with (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev, then the Senate can negotiate with the House. Let's get back to the table."

Open Hostility

The break was the second in six weeks of negotiations aimed at hammering out a compromise between the versions of the fiscal 1986 budget passed by the House and Senate. However, none of the earlier sessions have been so acrimonious, with openly hostile negotiators hurling personal insults at each other across the table.

For example, when Domenici criticized increases that the House would allow in nutrition programs, House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) retorted: "You are not sincere. This is pure, unadulterated hogwash."

House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said that negotiators need some time to cool off and "see if it is possible for us to exorcise the devils of bad feeling."

Asked whether there is much likelihood the talks will resume, Domenici said: "We just have to see. I don't see any way to put things together."

Tempers Flare

Tempers flared as the Senate rejected the latest House budget offer, a proposal that added about $24 billion in new domestic spending cuts over three years.

Senate negotiators insisted that the proposal, which claimed to slash $57 billion from a fiscal 1986 deficit now projected to approach $230 billion, did not go far enough.

Moreover, they contended that it did not stay within the framework of an agreement that congressional negotiators had made last week with the Reagan Administration, in which they abandoned both a House proposal to allow no growth in new defense spending commitments and a Senate plan to deny next year's increases geared to inflation in Social Security and other federally sponsored retirement programs.

'Close to Dead End'

Negotiators are "dangerously close to a dead end on this, and I don't know how to come back with a counteroffer," Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) told the House negotiators. "I don't think (the House) proposal is acceptable, or even remotely close to being acceptable."

In part, the friction stemmed from Senate disappointment over the agreement that was made with President Reagan--one that many senators have characterized as strictly a House-White House pact. They have been particularly incensed that Reagan withdrew his support from the Senate's proposed Social Security freeze, a politically risky venture.

Conceded California Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez): "The water has clearly been poisoned at this table by that agreement. . . . If the Senate needs time to go off and lick its wounds, fine."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
55°