Congress faced the prospect of a "lame-duck" session after the November elections yesterday as its budget plans, battered by heavy partisan crossfire in the House, clung to life by a slender hope for compromise.
For reasons of both logistics and politics, there has been speculation for some time that Congress would put off until after the elections the distasteful chore of amending its initial balanced budget for 1981 to include a deficit of about $30 billion.
But now the legislators have become snared in a conflict left over from their springtime budget-balancing effort, threatening further delay and giving a vivid public demonstration of the pitfalls of trying to play budget statesman in the midst of presidential and congressional campaigns.
The political theater came at a meeting of the House Budget Committee, which Chairman Robert N. Giaimo (D-Conn.) opened by accusing Republicans of "pre-election gamesmanship . . . flim flam and deceptive talk . . . demagoguery and base appeals" for their role in derailing a $10 billion to cost-cutting package in the House Rules Committee earlier this week.
Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) responded by accusing Giaimo of an "intemperate, vicious partisan attack," and Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md) called the Democratic-drafted budget a "cockamamie, rotten" document.
Just as the political grenades were flying in the Budget Committee room, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neil (D-Mass.) told reporters in his office that the second budget resolution will probably not come up until after the election recess.
He could "almost say," he added, that a post-election session was "definite," in part because the House was unlikely to finish work on the budget before it is scheduled to quit on Oct. 4 for the November elections.
Congressional leaders later decided to go home Oct. 4 and return, if necessary, after the elections to finish work.
The only glimmer of hope for a break in the budget impasse came when the Budget Committee, after venting its partisan frustrations, decided to try a bipartisan trade-off to get the $10 billion package of spending cuts and revenue measures out of the Rules Committee.
The package, viewed as critical to the process of the congressional budget control process this year, got mired down in the Rules Committee Tuesday when the panel unexpectedly voted, 8 to 7, to permit a floor amendment aimed at keeping a twice-a-year cost of living adjustment for federal worker's pensions.
A once-a-year pension adjustment had been recommended, as part of the so-called "reconciliation" package, in order to save more than $750 million next year.
Democratic leaders, fearing that one amendment would lead to more and thereby bring down the whole package, tried but failed Wednesday in an attempt to win over the three Democrats who voted with five Republicans to permit the pension amendment vote.
So, after all the yelling and screaming yesterday, they turned to Rep. Delbert L. Latta (R-Ohio), a Rules Committee member as well as ranking minority member of the Budget Committee, for a solution. The idea, which Latta apeared to tentatively embrace, was to get his vote for blocking the pension amendment in exchange for an agreement by the Democrats to drop several provisions that would wind up adding to costs, rather than reducing them, in future years.
Republicans had made a major complaint about these "liberalizing" provisions, claiming they violated the spirit of the budget reconciliation process.
The next step is another meeting of the Rules Committee, which may not come after Aug. 18, when Congress returns its recess for the Democratic National Convention.