Senate Budget Committee Chairman Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) called on the Senate yesterday to pass a new spending ceiling but not to do so with the idea of ignoring it later on.
The Senate has several times approved the budget without difficulty and later passed spending bills that exceeded it.
Muskie, in a sometimes emotional speech, accused some of his colleagues yesterday of viting to approve a budget they have no intention of observing.
And, in a clear swipe at Sen. Russell Long (D-La.), chairman of the taxwriting Finance Committee, the Maine Democrat charged that others view the disciplines imposed by the budget act as "mere parliamentary roadblocks" that can be gotten around by "raw gimmicks."
Muskie warned that unless Congress takes its budget process seriously it risks returning to the spending "chaos" that he had said existed before the legislators in 1975 began devising an annual spending and taxing plan.
Muskie, who has lost several major fights in his role as chief spending disciplinarian, reportedly is becoming frustrated with the job and there have been reports that he is considering resigning. These rumors have been denied and Muskie himself has never said he is interested in relinquishing the post, which he has held since the budget process was established four years ago.
Muskie's remarks came as the Senate began to debate the budget for fiscal 1979, which starts Oct. 1. The Budget Committee has recommended spending $498.9 billion and incurring a deficit of $55.6 billion. President Carter wants a $500.2 billion budget with a deficit of $60.6 billion.
The Budget Committee, as usual, is expected to have little trouble guiding its recommendations through the Senate. The committee specifically voted against rolling back any of the controversial Social Security tax increases scheduled to take effect next year. But the budget is written in such a way that it does not require the Senate to endorse the committee's stand on the taxes if that would put the budget in trouble on the floor.
In the House, where the budget has always had more difficulties, the Budget Committee voted to rescind $7.5 billion of the scheduled Social Security taxes for next year.
The budget resolution that must pass the House and Senate by May 15 is merely advisory. It guides legislators in voting on spending and taxing bills during the summer.
By Sept. 15, however, Congress must approve a budget with binding ceilings that can be violated only by a special vote of both House and Senate.
Muskie cited recent moves in agriculture and taxes as illustrative of the Senate's inability to follow the discipline it supposedly imposes on itself when it adopts a budget.
Last fall, only days after approving a budget containing a large increase in farm spending, the Senate voted to exceed its spending ceilings to give more money to farmers, Muskie said. This month the Senate again voted to ignore the budget limits on a giant farm aid bill, but that bill was later defeated in the House under the threat of a presidential veto.
"During the debate last year on the energy tax bill we witnessed again this eagerness to sacrifice budget reform in favor of spending proposals when political opportunity becomes more attractive for the moment," Muskie said.
That energy tax bill, part of a larger energy package that has been bogged down in a House-Senate conference for months, would have violated the revenue floors set down by the budget.To get around that, Muskie said, the Finance Committee "included a gimmick in its bill" that permitted the treasury secretary to postpone for a year those sections that would lose more money than the budget allowed.