The Senate on Monday took up a long-stalled fiscal 1987 budget plan after Republican leaders dropped efforts to shape a politically sticky deal on tax hikes and defense trims with Democrats and the White House before sending the $1-trillion spending blueprint to the floor.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) gave the go-ahead for floor action, estimated to last about a week, after making a futile last-ditch attempt to persuade House Democrats to begin debating their own version of a budget plan before the Senate proceeded.
Leaders in both chambers have been playing a cat-and-mouse game over the budget for weeks, trying not to get too far out front in calling for revenue increases--which could have serious political repercussions--but which both sides agree are needed to meet targets mandated under the new Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law.
Budget action had been stalled in the Senate since March 19 when the Republican-led Budget Committee agreed to a bipartisan plan that hiked taxes by $18.7 billion while chopping President Reagan’s military spending request by about $25 billion. The White House has remained adamant in its opposition to any revenue increases or defense spending cuts.
Dole said he gave up on his waiting game after House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) “flat out told us” in a meeting of congressional leaders that the House would not consider any budget proposal until 72 hours after the Senate completed action.
In what appeared to be a slight movement toward compromise, House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) told negotiators that he would drop a demand that Reagan agree to a package of tax hikes before any such proposals are included in a House budget resolution.
However, Gray still insisted that House Republicans sign on ahead of time to a tax hike formula, something they so far have been loathe to do.
“That’s an unreasonable request to make of me,” complained House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), signaling continued stalemate over the matter.
Kicking off debate on the floor, Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said that the Senate might tinker with the budget plan but ultimately would endorse a package “very close” to the one his committee approved.
He said that the Gramm-Rudman law imposes new fiscal constraints on Congress, forcing mandatory across-the-board spending cuts in many defense and domestic programs if federal red ink is not trimmed from more than $200 billion in the current 1986 fiscal year to $144 billion next year.
“We cannot get where we have to be . . . without additional revenues,” he warned.