The House voted to put more than $400 billion worth of government business on stopgap financing through the November elections yesterday as Republicans pummeled the Democratic majority in both chambers with charges of "cowardice" and "budgetary chicanery."
The stopgap or continuing resolution, which now goes to the Senate, would fund most of the federal government -- including the Pentagon and the big domestic agencies -- at proposed fiscal 1981 levels through Dec. 15.
It was required because Congress will pass the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30 without enacting most of its appropriations bills for fiscal 1981, meaning the money pipeline to the bureaucracy would dry up without interim spending authority.
While continuing resolutions are fairly routine, the size and scope of this year's measure is unprecedented, prompted in large part by budget disputes and election-year politicking.
Normally such resolutions fund agencies at the previous year's levels. This year most agencies would be financed at levels envisioned in House-passed appropriations bills for next year, unless the Senate approves smaller appropriations for 1981 in the meantime. The change was made largely because of pressure for higher defense spending, with the Pentagon due to receive $20 billion more in fiscal 1981 than it got in 1980.
Moreover, continuing resolutions are usually for relatively few agencies, not for most of the government.
The resolution was passed, 223 to 153, on a largely party-line vote after Republicans failed in an attempt to get the expiration date moved up to Oct. 18 and thereby force votes on many politically sensitive money bills before the Nov. 4 elections.
"The skids are being greased" for Congress to go back home to campaign without having to face final action on appropriations bills, a tax cut or a deficit-loaded budget resolution, complained Rep. Lawrence Coughlin (R-Pa.).
But the Democrats got in a few licks, too, with Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) accusing the minority of shedding "crocodile tears" and pursuing the "politics of disruption" on the financing issue.
Principal target of the day-long GOP barrage against the Democratic leadership was the Democrats' refusal to take up the revised congressional budget until after the elections because, according to the Republicans, the once-balanced budget now contains a deficit of at least $30 billion that the Democrats don't want to vote on.
The concerted attack, kicked off by GOP leaders as both houses opened for business, appeared to herald the arrival of the budget as a key issue in the fall congressional campaigns.
"Pretty bad stuff . . . a bankruptcy of leadership," said House Minority Leader John J. RHODES (R-Ariz.).
"By refusing to debate the second budget resolution until after the election, the leadership is participating in an act of budgetary chicanery which must not be allowed to slip by unnoticed," said Sen. Henry Bellmon (R-Okla.), ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.
"Garbage," responded Budget Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) in leading the Democrats' counterattack with a charge that the Republicans were more to blame than the Democrats for the budget delay because of their usual opposition to budget resolutions in the House.
In any case, budget pressures are easing as the recession shows signs of abating, thereby putting a premium on delay, he said. "The best thing this Congress could do is adjourn," Hollings asserted, apparently meaning every word of it.
The Senate Budget Committee has approved a revised budget containing as $18 billion deficit, but the Senate Democratic leadership apparently has no plans to bring it up before a mid-November "lame duck" session after the elections. The House Budget Committe will not begin drafting its proposed resolution until next week at the earliest, with little time left before the Oct. 4 recess for campaigning.
In a series of floor speeches and press conferences, Republicans called the budget resolution a "hostage to politics" and an "orphan child, unwanted and unrecognized." Moreover, the $18 billion deficit now appears to have mounted as high as $35 billion and, with a tax cut, could wind up as "a $50 billion surprise" for Americans after the elections, said Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.).
Hollings responded that the Republicans were double-talking about budget restraint and the tax cut advocated by their presidential nominee, Ronald Reagan.
"They care nothing about the budget, they could care less," said Hollings. "They want Ronnie's tax cut . . . They cannot get their act together. They either want to hold down the deficit and hold down inflation or they want a tax cut . . . They run all over the lot with little [press] releases about 'Whoopee for Ronnie, we hit 'em today.'"