The Senate Budget Committee voted yesterday to slash domestic programs and the federal bureaucracy next year in order to provide a balanced budget, a big defense spending increase and maybe even a tax cut.
Under the tentative plan adopted by the committee, total government spending in 1981 would increase by about $45 billion. Revenues would also increase, largely as a result of inflation.
The committee's proposed spending total of $612.9 billion is roughly the target set by President Carter and the Budget Committee. But the Senate committee's version calls for about $5 billion more in defense spending than either Carter or the House committee proposed.
In a butter-for-guns tradeoff that brought protests from some liberals, the committee found room for the additional military outlays by cutting many domestic programs -- ranging from food stamps to mass transit -- well below the austerity targets set by Budget Committee Chairman Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine).
The package was approved 11 to 7 over an embittered protest from Sen. Howard W. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who called it a "very, very evil job" that would amount to a "hollow victory" in the fight against inflation.
The domestic spending cuts include:
Reducing food stamps by $1 billion, ending $500 million in Social Security benefits, terminating the states' portion of federal revenue sharing and cutting urban grants, phasing out countercyclical public service jobs and delaying Carter's new youth job program for a year, reducing mass transit programs and trimming vocational education assistance.
Like the House committee, the Senate committee would also end Saturday mail delivery, a step that Carter has sought to avoid.
One of the biggest economies would be a 5 percent cut across the board from the administrative funcions of government military as well as civilian, for a total saving of $2.9 billion.
Such a cut would presumably require a reduction in everything from people to paperclips. Some members complained that many agencies are already too lean to accommodate such a cut. They advocated a less stringent retrenchment that would save about $900 million in the civilian bureaucracy and $400 million in the military.
But the majority -- this time including Metzenbaum -- appeared convinced that the government could trim down without hurting its performance. "We're saying . . . we want a little more productivity," said Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.). "Some message has to be sent to the Department of Defense and every other agency that they can't do business as usual," said Gen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.).
The House is expected to act on its budget resolution after the Easter recess, with the Senate following. Any differences -- including a guns vs. butter split -- will have to be ironed out later in conference. While the resolutions aren't binding, they set targets that are meant to be followed in the legislating and appropriating process.
The Senate committee sanctioned spending of $612.9 billion, compared with spending of roughly $567 billion now estimated for the current year. While generally in line with Carter's latest spending proposal, the committee's version is $16.3 billion less that the president proposed in his original budget in January.
Carter proposed cutting his earlier budget to $611.5 billion in order to help combat inflation, and Congress has proved thus far to be an eager partner, although members acknowledge that it may be difficult to keep spending urges in check as the year progresses.
The Senate committee's proposal includes a budget surplus of $10.1 billion, the first in 12 years. This comes almost entirely from the proceeds of Carter's oil import fee that will increase the cost of gasoline by 10 cents a gallon. It is also predicted on the somewhat iffy assumption that Congress will approve Carter's plan for withholding taxes on dividends and interest.
The surplus could be used for cutting taxes or debt retirement -- or for overruns if Congress doesn't adhere to the committee's spending targets.Muskie had originally proposed reserving a $16.3 billion surplus for tax cuts, but that was before the committee ate into the surplus with its defense spending proposals, which were added atop military outlay increases recommended by Carter.
As they worked their way through the budget after returning from a Wednesday session that lasted until midnight, the senators engaged again in shadowboxing over pet projects.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) was engaged in an impassioned defense of the defense budget when he made a passing reference to what he called the "fiscal debauchery" of New York, which he described as a "city on food stamps." This brought a sharp protest from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who had argued as fervently for urban programs over the last few days as Hollings did for defense.
At another point, unsuccessfully arguing against the across-the-board cut in the bureaucracy, Moynihan asked solemnly, "Are we aware of what we're doing here?" Muskie responded wearily: "Why should we set a new test?"