Senate Budget Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) accused President Carter yesterday of the "height of hypocrisy" and "outrageous, deplorable conduct" for assailing a compromise congressional budget plan as too defense-heavy.
Hollings said the president was trying to have it both ways in "yelling whoopie" for increased military compensation when he welcomed home the aircraft carrier Nimitz on Monday and then telling community leaders on Tuesday that more should be spent on social programs.
"He doesn't want a balanced budget; he wants a campaign budget," said Hollings, in some of the harshest language a Democratic committee chairman has used in speaking of Carter since the start of his term."It's sad to see a president speaking out [when] he doesn't know what he's talking about," Hollings added.
Hollings' criticism came as the House prepared to vote today on the 1981 spending plan, which was put together last week by House and Senate conferees over strong objections from moderate-to-liberal House Democrats who plan to fight it on the floor. The resolution was already in deep trouble, and congressional leaders said Carter's opposition added to its jeopardy.
Hollings was the prime mover in pushing for a big defense-spending increase, prodding the House conferees to accept $153.7 billion in military outlays -- far closer to what the Senate wanted than to what the House had approved. This would amount to an increase of $18 billion over anticipated spending for defense this year, with an even larger increase in budget authority for long-term commitments.
The budget is at least nominally balanced for the first time in 12 years, meaning that domestic spending cuts had to be made to offset military outlay increases. Both the defense increases and domestic cuts are prompting the Carter and congressional opposition.
With the fate of the resolution in doubt, along with the viability of the congressional budget process itself, an attempt was under way last night to reach a compromise. Rep. James A. Mattox (D-Tex.), a Budget Committee member, said he was working on a plan to shift between $500 million and $700 million from defense to domestic programs in hopes of winning a majority in both houses and avoiding a return to conference with the Senate.
Meanwhile, skirmishing between the White House and Congress continued.
A House Armed Services subcommittee summoned the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a hearing today to testify on whether they agree with Carter that Congress is proposing to spend too much on the military. Subcommittee chairman Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) earlier threatened to subpoena them if the Pentagon tried to block their appearance.
At the same time, Carter continued to push for a reshuffling of the budget, telling a group of out-of-town editors that Congress was advocating more money than needed for defense "at the expense of domestic programs that are designed to keep Americans at work."
Added Carter: "We cannot afford to cheat the American people on domestic programs with an unnecessary allocation from domestic programs for defense."
And, in a speech prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher charged that Congress has emphasized defense spending at the expense of foreign aid and other foreign policy instruments. "We have little chance to be positive when we approach the world with empty pockets," he said.
Asked about Carter's stand, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said tersely that he was backing the conferees' recommendation. However, Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) is opposing the package as too restrictive toward social programs. Senate Minority Whip Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) sharply criticized Carter and said the whole budget process will be in "serious jeopardy" if Carter persists. House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) questioned "how carefully" Carter analyzed the budget before opposing it.
But it was Hollings who came out swinging hardest. Asked if he isn't backing Carter for reelection, he said he's a pro-Carter convention delegate but added, "At the moment it's a kind of tenuous situation."
He accused Carter of "misleading" people by opposing $153.7 billion for defense when his budget director backed precisely the same figure during maneuvering over amendments on the Senate floor this month. An administration official said that sum was endorsed only to improve bargaining leverage in the conference.
Hollings also said that Carter was defying his own commitment to increase defense spending that he made on the country's behalf to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and said it would take even more money than the conferees approved to make the United States competitive with the Soviet Union.