Congressional budget-cutters started to get specific yesterday, and supporters of endangered programs started fighting back.
In the most serious move to date toward a balanced budget, a bipartisan House group came up with a list of some $28.9 billion in recommended spending cuts in job-creation, revenue-sharing and assorted other domestic programs -- but not in defense.
Even as that list of cuts was surfacing, however, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland was telling the House Budget Committee it was "simplistic" to fight inflation by balancing the budget. That idea comes "from the Wall Street bankers who impose 17 percent interest rates, not from those who will suffer," he testified.
The administration, meanwhile, intensified its consultations with leading Democrats in Congress over possible budget cuts, as Carter advisers met for more than two hours with members of the House and Senate leadership last evening. Those present said no decisions were made, but that both sides were determined to cut spending below the $615.8 billion budget Carter sent to Congress last month.
Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said consultations with administration officials have convinced him that President Carter will recommend some form of credit controls and restrictions on excessive credit-card use, as well as spending cuts, in his new anti-inflation program.
And House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass), who also has been conferring with White House strategists, endorsed the imposition of import fees on foreign oil as a way to cut consumption and increase federal revenues. Carter hinted in January that he might take such a step.
The scrapping over how to cut the budget surfaced all over Capitol Hill. In a private meeting with O'Neill, House Democrat whips chided him for not moving agressively enough in the budget-cutting campaign, and called for firm steps.
At the same time, reprensentatives of governors' and mayors' groups warned a Senate Finance subcommittee it would put localities in a severe fiscal bind if Congress cuts the federal revenue-sharing program, as some lawmakers have suggested.
The budget-cut proposals compiled by the House working group, expected to be sent to House members this weekend, include $12.8 billion in major program changes and $10.8 billion in "selective" cuts in individual budget items. The rest would come in minor money-saving moves.
Among the major items were reductions of $3.9 billion in job-creation programs, $2.4 billion from eliminating the states' portion of revenue-sharing, and $1 billion each from cutting anti-recession aid to cities, duplication of food-stamp benefits and extended jobless benefits.
The list also includes reductions of $2.8 billion in community and regional development programs, $1.9 billion in education, social services and anti-proverty programs, $1.4 billion in foreign aid and other cuts in law-enforcement grants, health programs and elimination of the junk-mail subsidy.
The budget-cutters also proposed a freeze on federal hiring and a 30 percent cut in the operations budget of 17 major agencies, which would save $857 million.
The plan omitted any cutbacks in the defense budget. And the group specifically rejected a proposal now being pushed by the administration to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits to offset distortions in the consumer price index, to which benefits are tied.
The House Budget Committee is expected to hold hearings next week to consider this plan and several other budget-cutting proposals. Liberals, led by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), are compiling their own list, which Obey has said will include defense cutbacks.
Meanwhile, Cranston unveiled a similar list that he said the Senate has been discussing, which includes both cuts in the defense budget and the administration's plan to limit Social Security cost-of-living increases.
Cranston also disputed an earlier assertion by O'Neill that budget-balancing would not help fight inflation. "It won't stop inflation, but it will help, Cranston said. He said the current round of meetings would continue "until we come up with a consensus."
The developments came as officials reported the White House was moving more slowly than originally planned in preparing its revised budget proposals. There were indications the president would not be able to announce his new spending target until the week after next.
Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland winced a little yesterday at White House budget-cutting directives, saying he saw no way to cut his department's spending as much as the White House asked without hitting at popular programs.
Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt announced that mass-transit grants would not be cut in the new budget proposals. On Wednesday, Labor Secretary F. Ray Marshall told reporters that Carter's new youth unemployment proposal wouldn't be touched.
Legislative committees in Congress continued to drag their feet on budget committee calls for estimates of their own plans for appropriations on major spending programs. On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee boosted Carter's budget in its area by $802 million.
At the same time, the House and Senate Budget committees published separate lists of bills that will be delayed for at least four weeks because Congress has breached its ceiling on the current year's budget. The lawmakers may not consider new money bills until the situation is resolved.
The House list comprises $8 billion worth of legislation, including $2.3 billion in Medicaid grants to states, retirement pay for Coast Guard personnel, maritime subsidies, the Black Lung Disability Fund and District of Columbia retirement benefits.
Senate bills now being held up because of the crunch include $17.4 billion in supplemental appropriations bills covering student loans, child nutrition, food stamps, the space shuttle, anti-recession aid to cities, military retirement and the federal pay raise bill.
In his testimony before the House Budget Commitee, Kirkland renewed his call for wage-price controls and reimposition of controls on oil prices, saying budget-balancing would not get at the root of inflation.
Kirkland also strongly opposed the administration's plan to cut cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits, charging it would be "absolutely ruinous" for the elderly. He said the increases were necessary to maintain "equity."
Cranston's remarks about credit controls appeared to run counter to suggestions in some quarters earlier this week that Carter had rejected any such move.However, the majority whip said that if controls were imposed, they would not affect housing and auto loans.