Congressional Democrats greeted President Carter's budget amendments with muted comments yesterday, welcoming his restoration of funds cut by the Ford administration from certain popular domestic programs but opposing some of Carter's own recommended economies.
In a typical reaction, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) commended Carter's "strong awareness of the need for fiscal discipline" but complained that the Dickey-Lincoln School Lakes Dam project in his home state was one of the 19 water projects suspended by Carter in his budget amendments.
The cutoff of the Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers projects, which administration officials said they knew would be controversial, was described as "an absurd mistake" by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the Enery and Natural Resources Committee. "I just have to charge that up to inexperience," he said.
Another of the suspended irrigation projects, the Central Arizona Project is of particular interest to Jackson's counterpart in the House, Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.).
Udall, according to an aide, called the decision "zero-based budgeting gone made," and complained that there was no prior consultation on suspension of a project that had been studied by Congress for years.
But the displeasure of the two men whose cooperation is vital for Carter's energy program to succeed in Congress may be short-lived.
Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.), chairman of the Public Works Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which will decide the funding for the water projects said, "Frankly, I think the President is getting some bad advice," and said he was "hopeful" they would be restored. Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.), the House majority leader, said "it wouldn't surprise me" if most or all of the projects were revived by Congress.
As if anticipating that reaction, Bert Lance, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and principal architect of Carter's budget revisionns, said in advance that Carter would let Congress have the final word in this argument.
"I don't believe in the impoundment process," Lance said, referring to the freezing of appropriated funds by the administration. "If Congress puts these projects back in, that would be within their purview."
Aside from the flap over the water projects, most congressional reaction was rather bland, with many members saying they had not had time to study the budget proposals in any detail.
Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said the Carter proposals were (D-Calif.) said the Carter proposals were "about what was to be expected. I like the directions he's seeking to move - getting more funds back into education, stepping up the efforts for jobs and starting the process of taking a hard look at the defense budget."
But he added that "more needs to be done in all those respects - more for housing, more for transportation and other needs."
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) promised a "complete reveiew" of the Carter proposals but said Congress would come "within the ballpark figures" the President has set.
In the area of national defense, where Carter made modest cutbacks from the Ford administration proposal, he appearedto have hit a comfortable middleground for both congressional hawks and doves. Reps. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) and Les Aspin (D-Wid.), frequently on opposite sides in the House Armed Services Committee, both said they thought the Carter proposals were reasonable.
Indications were that as the budget moves through congressional hearings, Carter's main fight would be to hold spending down to the levels he proposed.
The National Education Association, for example, said in a statement that while it was "encouraged" by Carter's restoration of some funds cut in the Ford budget, "We plan to make substantial recommendations for increases in a number of areas as the budget proposals make their way through Congress."
Chairman Carl Perkins (D-Ky.) of the House Education and Labor Committee, one of four House committee chairmen hit by the water project cutbacks, said he would seek money for direct student loans, vocational education and work-study funds.
Organized labor leaders also weighed in on the side of higher spending, with Robert Georgine, head of the AFL-CIO building-trades department, telling reporters in Bal Harbor Fla., that Carter's elimination of the water projects was "ill-advised . . . not only in eliminating jobs but in depriving people in the West of water they badly need."
Spokesmen for cities and counties also commended Carter for "the first step" in meeting urban needs, but said they wanted Congress to go further.
On the other hand, Jack W. Carlson, chief economist of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, predicted higher inflation and unemployment than the Carter administration forecast and said it was "highly unlikely the President can achieve any of his laudable economic gaols."
Except on the water project cutbacks, where they joined the general chorus of criticism, Republican leaders were also restrained. Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) called the Carter budget simply a "prep pill" for the economy and said, "It will not do what needs to be done."