The Carter administration called on members of Congress yesterday to defeat their Budget committees' compromise spending plan for next fiscal year, saying it includes too much money for defense and not enough for other programs.
President Carter said he feared that the committees' version of the budget resolution for fiscal 1981, which may come up for a vote in the House this week, would "severely restrain some programs that have been carefully designed" to help "deterioriating cities" and provide jobs.
The United States must not permit the "ravages of recession" to get out of hand, Carter separately told civic leaders at the White House. "We can't afford to slash those programs too deeply" in order to add money to the defense budget that is not needed, he said.
This is the first time Carter has fought a budget resolution, and his intervention could be enough to defeat it in the House, where liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans -- for quite different reasons -- where already set to vote against it.
The intervention caught congressional budget experts by surprise, especially since the 1981 spending total of $613.3 billion is very close to what Carter recommended when he revised his budget proposals on March 30. Moreover, the budget is in balance, as the president urged.
Administration officials, who briefed reporters but asked not to be identified, said the major objection to the pending resolution was the big increase in spending authority for the Defense Department, which at $167.7 billion is $6.8 billion above the administration's recommendation.
Such a large increase in fiscal 1981, they said, could put defense spending on a higher track, and lead to nearly $40 billion more in spending commitments between now and 1985 than the administration thinks necessary.
In addition, the officials said the conference committee which reconciled differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget resolution proposed cutting non-defense spending other than interest on the national debt $4.8 billion below what is needed.
Even though the economic outlook has worsened since Carter sent his budget revisions to Capitol Hill, the officials noted the conference committee cut income security programs nearly $1 billion below the $220.1 billion proposed by the administration and more than $2.5 billion below what the Congressional Budget Office said present programs would cost.
"This truly doesn't represent what we know will be the situation" as the economy dips into recession and spending rises for unemployment benefits, Social Security, food stamps, energy assistance and other programs, an official said.
Five Democratic members of the House Budget Committee refused to sign the conference report and will oppose it on the floor. The administration plans to work with them and other members to form a coalition to defeat the resolution and have it sent back to conference to rearrange the spending priorities, officials said.
A Senate budget expert noting how insistent the Senate members of the conference committee had been in defending the military spending figures, said he doubted that another conference would change the outcome very much. The House resolution included several billion dollars less for defense than did the Senate's; the conference version is much closer to the Senate figure.
"The Senate presents a difficult situation," conceded one of the Carter aides. "We have voiced our concerns to Sen. [John] Stennis [D-Miss.], chairman of the Armed Forces Committee. . . . about some of the 'gold-plating' on some items that are being recommended."
"Goldplating" is military parlance for weapons systems or other programs that are more complex and more expensive than necessary.
The officials said the budget resolution's $167.7 billion in spending authority for 1981 represents about a 10 percent increase even after adjustment for inflation -- more than double the 4 1/2 percent jump Carter recommended.
"That increase is just not sustainable," one official declared. "It is an enormous piece of the budget when you run it out" for five years.
On the other hand, the officials complained, the conference committee not only trimmed income-security spending estimates but also cut education and gaining outlay targets $1.1 billion below what Carter proposed, including a large reduction in public service jobs for the unemployed.
Transportation funding would be cut, too, under the budget resolution about $350 million below the administration recommendation. The cuts likely would have to come from mass transit money, the officials warned.
"If we lose" and the resolution passes, an official said, "we will fight on in the authorization and appropriation process" to establish the priorities Carter wants.
But the administration challenge to the conference report raises the real possibility that Congress will be unable to agree on any budget resolution. In that case, under congressional rules, no authorizing nor appropriation legislation could be brought to the floor of either house for a vote.
In addition, the third budget resolution for the current fiscal year, 1980, would likely be blocked, too. If so some "urgent" supplemental appropriation bills could not pass, either. These include money for black lung benefits, diaster assistance, trade adjustment assistance and the space shuttle, officials said.