Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) warned Tuesday that failure by Congress to agree soon on a fiscal 1987 budget resolution “could jeopardize” the tax-overhaul plan that President Reagan has made his top domestic priority.
Dole’s remarks, amid signs that the Senate Budget Committee’s budget proposal faces strong opposition when it reaches the Senate floor, put some pressure on the Reagan Administration to become involved in negotiating a fiscal package.
Until now, the White House has refused to bargain with Congress over the budget and has limited itself largely to pressing for its own proposed spending blueprint. However, few believe that Congress will agree to either the sharp domestic cuts or 8% after-inflation defense-spending increase that Reagan has requested.
“If the White House wants tax reform (and) we want a budget, we should talk about them at the same time,” Dole said. He added: “The White House cannot afford to sit on the fence and wait.”
Fears for Bill
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) suggested that delay could spell doom for the tax plan, a draft of which is being fashioned by his committee. “I fear for the life of the bill if we can’t start (consideration by the full Senate) by the first of June,” he said.
Dole conceded that Congress will not meet its self-imposed April 15 deadline to produce a budget.
Although it has routinely missed such deadlines in the past, this year’s schedule is considered more urgent. The new Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing law will impose sweeping automatic spending reductions if Congress fails by August to provide $144 billion in cuts. Without any changes in spending policies, the federal deficit is expected to exceed $180 billion in 1987.
Dole also suggested that he is delaying consideration of the package drafted several weeks ago by the Republican-led Senate Budget Committee, which includes a $25-billion reduction in Reagan’s defense request and $18.7 billion in tax increases, because it does not have enough support.
Measure Lacks Votes
When asked what was blocking action on the bill, Dole replied tersely: “Votes.”
Moreover, much of the opposition is likely to come from Republicans themselves. Two dozen Republicans--almost half of the Senate’s 53-member GOP majority--last month appealed to Dole to draft an alternative that would not include such sharp defense cuts and tax hikes.
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), a Budget Committee member who had led the group, wrote his fellow senators Tuesday, arguing that the panel’s defense-spending proposal, which many say will not allow even enough spending growth to accommodate inflation, actually would increase the long-run cost of modernizing military equipment.
The committee package drew criticism on another front Tuesday, when committee member William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) contended that most of the savings claimed under the budget plan already have been enacted. Thus, he said, the proposal “is little more than a huge tax increase and a huge reduction in defense spending.”
Despite such criticisms, Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) has maintained that any budget that eventually could pass the Senate is likely to be drawn on the broad outlines of the plan approved by a bipartisan majority of his committee.
Domenici also sent Dole a letter contending that failure to act on a budget could cause “serious chaos” in the Senate. If that forces sharp and painful automatic spending cuts to be enacted under the Gramm-Rudman law, he added, senators could feel a voter backlash in this fall’s elections.