The House refused to swallow a Senate-prescribed dose of budgetary self-discipline yesterday as it approved a $547.6 billion budget for the current fiscal year, but declined to order congressional committees to cut spending to stay within that total.
By a largely party-line vote of 205 to 190, the House approved a conferees-drafted budget resolution that had been stripped of Senate language requiring committees to cut $3.6 billion in previously approved spending in order to meet the budget ceiling.
This means that the Senate and House, while agreed on spending priorities and totals for the 1980 fiscal year that began Oct. 1, are still at odd over how to curb their own inclinations to spend beyond their self-prescribed means.
The Senate took the position that the five-year-old congressional budget control process requires, under a procedure called reconciliation, that committees be ordered to cut back when they exceed mandated spending limits. The House, calling this a "sledge-hammer" approach in the words of Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), contended that its committees have already made cuts of $2.7 billion and probably more by voluntary surgery on legislative programs.
The House-revised conference report now goes back to the Senate, which voted 65 to 27 on Wednesday to insist on wielding the reconciliation axe, but gets a chance to recondsider now that the House has firmly staked out a contrary position.
The budget is six weeks overdue, delayed by the reconciliation dispute and the difficulty of accomodating Sanate demands for more defense spending and House insistence on higher domestic outlays with their mutual zeal to keep the budget deficit under $30 billion.
In the end, the conferees did this by raising revenue estimates, relying largely on inflation and higher oil prices to generate more tax revenues.
The deficit was set at $29.8 billion,although some Republican House members argued yesterday that failure to order committee cutbacks could push the deficit to $33 billion or beyond.
House Republican leaders, who normally vote against all Democratic-sponsored budget resolutions, offered to vote for this one if reconciliation was included. But this wasn't enough to defeat a budget-minus-reconciliation motion by House Budget Committee Chairman Robert N. Giaimo (D-Conn.), who was supported by the Democratic leadership.
"Throw us this bone, Give the tax-payers this crumb," House GOP Whip Robert H. Michel (R-III.) argued in vain.
Republicans were able to pick up only 45 Democratic votes, constrained in part by Jones, a moderate-to-conservative Democratic leader, who assured his colleagues that the House leadership will let them vote this year on his own budget control proposal to restict federal spending to 20 percent of gross national product.
There also was the question of what would have to be cut. Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) listed some painful examples, including veterans' benefits and child nutrition programs. Rep. Ray Roberts (D-Tex.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, raised the specter of reductions in veterans' burial benefits and said letters from veterans, groups are pouring in.
The Senate will not vote again until after its Budget Committee considers how to resolve the discipline issue in a special meeting next Tuesday. Committee Chairman Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine), said he considered the narrowness of the House margin as "encouraging support for the reconciliation process."
Muskie, chief advocate of reconciliation, is in an awkward spot. Some House members asserted yesterday that the Senate's continued insistence on reconciliation could mean a permanent standoff over the budget resolution, risking as much damage to the ever-fragile budget process as a Senate retreat on reconciliation.
Among Wasington area legislators, Reps. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) and Herbert E. Harris (D-Va.) voted for the budget without reconciliation, while Rep. Jospeh L. Fisher (D-Va.) voted against it. On Wednesday Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) voted for the budget with reconciliation, while Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.) voted against it. Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) and Rep. Gladys N. Spellman (D-Md.) did not vote on the issue.