The House, which last week overwhelmingly rejected a preliminary 1978 budget target that contained too much defense money to suit liberals and too big a deficit for conservatives, yesterday approved a compromise budget resolution that is $2.2 billion smaller.
Democratic leaders had reacted angrily to administration lobbying attempts last week aimed at boosting the defense spending. Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said approval of the budget resolution yesterday was due in large part to the administration's decision to "stay out" of the House leadership's attempt to effect a compromise.
Yesterday's vote was 213 to 179 to spend $464.5 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That will mean a deficit of $66.4 billion - about $2.2 billion less than riled conservatives last week - and almost all of the cut in defense.
But the House yesterday first had to defeat four attempts to boost the defense spending beyond the level recommended by its Budget Committee and move it closer to the level recomended by the President. The House added $175 million to pay for increased pensions for World War I veterans.
The House and Senate must confer on their respective budget resolutions next week to try to have a joint congressional budget target resolution in place by may 15.
The Senate version passed late Wednesday and contains a much higher level of defense spending than does the House version House Budget Committee chairman Robert N. Ciaimo (D-Conn.) said that could cause some problems but declined to "anticipate" what form of compromise the Senate and House conference would reach.
Last week the House boosted defense spending by $2.3 billion over its committee's recommendation to the $111.9 billion level recommended by President Carter. Defense Secretary Harold Brown pushed hard for the increase.
But after adding funds for agricultural price supports, law enforcement and veterans' pensions, the House balked at the $68.6 billion deficit and sent the budget resolution back to committee.
Last Friday the Budget Committee fashioned a compromise adding $300 million to defense spending and some more funds to law enforcement and pensions for veterans.
It was essentially that compromise that was approved yesterday.
In a briefing after the vote yesterday, Wright denied charges by Rep. Richard Ichord (D-Mc.) and others that he "twisted arms" to get members to back lower defense spending level. Last week the move by Rep. Omar Burleson (D-Tex.) to restore the cuts the Budget Committee made in Carter's proposal was approval over-whelmingly.
Wright said most Democrats changed their votes because they recognized the "fate of the budget process was at stake."
Many who favored higher defense spending, as well as many who wanted less spent on defense and more on social programs," thought the presence of the budget process, the integrity of Congress and the capacity to have a budget and control spending took priority," Wright said.
Under the two-year-old budget process - designed to give Congress the ability to deal with overall spending - the House and Senate must agree on a preliminary budget resolution by May 15. Until they do, no action on any spending bills can take place.
Before Sept. 15 Congress must adopt a binding budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Before the final vote early yesterday evening, Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), a liberal who fought to reduce defense spending, warned that if the Democrats voted against the final resolution they would doom the budget process.
Mitchell said that an end to the budget process would doom all human programs. Mitchell, who turned his back on Republican catcalls, was met with applause from his fellow Democrats.
Giaimo said he expects the House and Senate conferees to meet Monday to iron out the differences in their budgets. The Senate budget overall has a deficit about $3 billion less than the House's version and wants to spend about $5 billion less.