Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady and Budget Director Richard G. Darman met with congressional leaders for two hours today in a renewed effort to get formal negotiations under way on President Bush's $1.16-trillion spending plan.
Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey), House Budget Committee chairman, said progress had been made in the preliminary phase of the discussions, which have been taking place since Bush unveiled his budget Feb. 9.
Those talks have focused mainly on a search by Democrats to learn more details about the President's spending plan for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, especially how he plans to achieve $10 billion in savings in scores of domestic programs.
However, Democrats have refused to say whether they would be willing to enter into bargaining with the Administration over the shape of a final budget.
Panetta said now that the preliminary phase of the discussion was coming to an end, the Democratic leadership in Congress will have to decide whether to begin actual negotiations.
"The question for the leadership to decide is what the format for the next discussions with the Administration will be," Panetta said after today's talks.
Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), Senate Budget Committee chairman, expressed optimism that the talks being sought by the Administration would begin.
"All of this is trending in the direction of negotiations," he said.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the ranking Republican on Sasser's committee, said, "Time is running out, so some decisions will have to be made." He said that various options have been explored but that no decisions were made.
Darman and Brady walked past reporters without pausing to answer questions. While Darman has been meeting on a regular basis with ranking Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate budget committees, it was the first time that Brady had entered into the discussions.