Hopes for smooth congressional action on spending priorities for next year faded yesterday as liberals lashed out against the Senate Budget Committee's proposal for more guns and less butter in 1981.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) delayed consideration of the controversial budget resolution for a week in an apparent attempt to preserve a fragile Democratic consensus on how to balance the 1981 budget without gutting some of the Democrats' favorite domestic spending programs.
Contending that the Budget Committee had violated this consensus by proposing "extreme" cuts in social spending, Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) led the liberals' countercharge by advocating an "alternative" spending blueprint that would provide more money for domestic programs -- and less for defense -- "than the Budget Committee recommended.
Although Byrd carefully avoided endorsing or spurning Cranston's proposal, it was a primary topic of conversation in high-level meetings Byrd called during the afternoon in an attempt to seek a Democratic consensus on the issue.
But no agreements were reached, and more meetings have been scheduled today.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine), who opposed the big defense spending increases in committee but has always supported the committee's recommendations on the floor, said it was "too early to tell" whether the Democratic leadership would recommend changes.
Another senator who attended a two-hour meeting with Byrd, Cranston, Muskie and most of the Senate's major committee chairmen said he detected little support for Cranston's proposal.
But another source said a number of the committee chairmen were "hung up" over the Budget Committee's proposed directive to other committees to cut spending by $2.6 billion in 1980 and $8.4 billion in 1981 in order to meet the prescribed spending ceilings. Outside of the leadership sessions, liberals continued to denounce the Budget Committee's action, as Republicans beat the drum for even bigger spending cuts to pave the way for a tax cut.
At a meeting of a nutrition subcommittee which he heads, Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) denounced the Budget Committee's recommendation to cut $1.4 billion from the food stamp program next year and called the committee's resolution "obscene." Added McGovern: "It's a sellout to the Pentagon, and the ordinary people will pay the cost."
A representative of the Carter administration, which also is opposed to the Budget Committee's proposal, deplored the food stamp cut. "It strikes me as a Draconian action against the nation's poor," said Carol Tucker Foreman, an assistant secretary of agriculture.
In comments to reporters as the Senate returned from its Easter recess, Byrd said he was postponing action on the budget to allow more time for study and to await some movement by the House on the issue.
In a late afternoon meeting, House Democratic leaders decided to take up their version of the budget next week. It proposes more evenly balanced cuts in military and defense spending along lines recommended by the administration.
In the Senate, several sources said Byrd is unlikely to support an effort to override the Budget Committee unless it has a good chance of success.
Several senators, including Sen. Henry Bellmon (R-Okla.), the Budget Committee's ranking minority member, said Congress' mood militates against increasing domestic spending at the expense of committee-endorsed increases in military outlays."I doubt such an alternative will fly," said Bellmon, adding it would get few Republican votes.