The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday turned back efforts of the Reagan administration and James C. Miller, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, to cut the FTC's current budget, voting 14 to 8 to maintain the agency's funding at $71.8 million.
The administration, with a 3-to-1 majority of the commission in apparent support, had urged Congress to cut the agency's budget by 12 percent to $61 million. Miller and his representatives had lobbied for the appropriations committee to back the cut. The FTC was the only regulatory agency to endorse the 12 percent cut.
But Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on state, justice, commerce and the judiciary, balked. He and four other Republicans and nine Democrats defeated an amendment introduced by Sen. Robert Kasten (R-Wis.) to adopt the cut.
The FTC budget passed earlier by the subcommittee was 8 percent less than the amount recommended by the Carter administration.
Some committee members indicated that the vote demonstrated their opposition not only to cutting the agency's budget but also to the perception that the FTC under Miller will be cut back sharply at a time when many members of Congress say marketplace and merger regulation is particularly important. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) said it would be a "terrible mistake" to cut antitrust enforcement at this time.
Proposals by the Office of Management and Budget for other regulatory agency budgets also were defeated as the committee adopted budgets of $84 million for the Securities and Exchange Commission and $76.9 million for the Federal Communications Commission, both well above the levels recommended by OMB.
The administration's program has also begun to draw flak in the House, where four key House Commerce Committee members, led by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) criticized the administration's regulatory programs as "dangerously disruptive to orderly and responsible government."
Weicker accused Miller and OMB Director David Stockman of trying to "pull an end-around" in the budget-cutting plan. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), ranking minority member of Weicker's subcommittee, said the committee could not adopt the cuts in the FTC's budget proposed by the OMB "without risking closing it down."
Weicker also accused Kasten, who is chairman of the consumer subcommittee which oversees the FTC, of undermining his appropriations panel. "If you want to take over my subcommittee, hang around for a few years," Weicker said.
Kasten apologized and guaranteed committee members that his oversight subcommittee "will not allow them the FTC to back off antitrust enforcement by budget reductions."
Stockman had written to Kasten Tuesday to urge adoption of the FTC cuts, saying the revised budget would "cut the fat" out of the FTC and at the same time permit the agency "to increase its productivity" and "relieve business of nonessential regulatory burdens."
In opposing the cuts, Weicker read a statement by FTC member Patricia Bailey, who effectively broke with fellow Republican Miller. She said in the statement prepared for a House subcommittee yesterday that she had endorsed the budget cut "only reluctantly" after she was told the cuts would be government-wide and would not result in job cutbacks.
But the FTC determined after its vote last week that more than 100 employes would have to be terminated and four FTC regional offices would have to be shut down if the 12 percent cut were implemented.
Bailey said that although the agency could absorb the cut, it would result in "diminished activity" and would bring the FTC "perilously close to the point" where the agency "may be unable to enforce effectively or even selectively" the 26 laws within its jurisdiction.