As top Senate and House negotiators began privately weighing possibilities for a budget compromise in the wake of President Reagan’s rejection of new taxes and Social Security cuts, angry Senate Republicans warned Tuesday that no budget might be preferable to the deficit reduction options Reagan has left them.
“A budget package that only fiddles around with smoke and mirrors is worse than nothing at all,” Sen. James A. McClure (R-Ida.) said.
And, although Senate Budget Committee member William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) said there still are even odds that Congress will adopt a budget resolution this year, he clearly was unenthusiastic about how effective that agreement would be in curbing the gaping federal deficit.
“The only question remaining about the budget resolution, in my opinion, is whether we’re going to get a half a loaf, a quarter of a loaf, a slice or crumbs,” Armstrong said.
Tensions between Reagan and Senate Republicans were high Tuesday as the President met with GOP leaders from both houses and had lunch with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N. M.) and House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.).
“I don’t think the lunch helped,” Domenici said afterward. He subsequently met with Gray until late Tuesday night exploring possible compromises on domestic spending. After the meeting, Domenici said that the two sides still disagreed on about a dozen items but planned to take tentative proposals on the remainder of the budget back to their respective houses.
Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R. I.) described Reagan’s session with the Republican leaders as gloomy, explaining: “There was a feeling of despair or deep concern on behalf of the senators whether anything significant could be achieved.”
Added Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.): “It’s frustrating to have the President continually reject serious efforts by the Senate to do something about the deficit.”
Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) was more blunt, declaring: “The President has sold us down the river again.”
Reagan, at the urging of the White House staff and both Democrats and Republicans in the House, decided Monday not to go along with the three key elements of the latest Senate budget proposal: a $5-a-barrel oil import fee, which would break his commitment to no new taxes; a delay in tax indexing, which would allow inflation to push taxpayers into higher brackets, and a delay in adding inflation allowances to Social Security benefits and other government pension plans.
Reagan had promised during last year’s reelection campaign not to touch Social Security benefits but reluctantly had supported a Senate-passed proposal to deny increases for one year. However, he withdrew his support for that idea several weeks ago and apparently found the Senate’s latest proposal to curb benefits equally unpalatable.
Reagan’s decision left House and Senate negotiators haggling over further domestic spending cuts-- an area in which they have been unable to make any progress toward agreement in seven weeks of talks.
Senate Republicans argued that the deficit--projected to reach almost $230 billion next year--has grown too large to be fought with spending cuts alone.
Domenici warned that, if House and Senate leaders cannot reach at least a preliminary budget agreement before Congress leaves town Thursday for a five-week recess, “the chances of getting one in the near future are very slim.”
The new fiscal year will begin less than a month after Congress returns. Without the overall spending blueprint provided by a budget agreement, lawmakers are considered unlikely to make much of a dent in federal spending as they pass appropriations bills for fiscal 1986.
In other action, the House Tuesday voted 249 to 172 to approve a $13.3-billion appropriation bill to fund the operations of the Treasury Department, the U.S. Postal Service, the White House and a variety of other independent federal agencies in fiscal 1986.
The measure exceeded the Administration’s request by $1.2 billion and topped last year’s spending bill by $496 million.