The Senate Budge Committee yesterday dug even further into federal spending than President Reagan has proposed and voted cuts totaling $36.4 billion for next year -- the "most historic exercise in restraint ever attempted by the Congress," according to Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).
Despite Democratic protests about a "forced march" and "unbelievable havoc for millions of Americans," the committee voted unanimously in favor of spending guidelines that vary little from those recommended by Reagan.
Under pressure from Reagan and Republican leaders in Congress, the committee completed its work in three days and put the measure on track for Senate action next week, right on schedule.
In writing instructions to other committees for spending cutbacks, the budget panel proposed $2.3 billion more in cuts than Reagan recommended for programs that are to be included in the so-called "reconciliation" package, although it quickly became clear that the extra savings may not last long.
Even as the Budget Committee was finishing its work, the Senate Energy Committee was voting unanimously to keep in the budget $3.8 billion for the strategic petroleum reserve. The Budget Committee had cut out $3 billion of that in favor of a 10-year alternative method of buying the needed oil.
Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) vowed to try to restore full funding for the reserve when the budget plan comes to the Senate floor. There will doubtless be other restoration amendments.
But the Budget Committee's action indicated that the Democrats in the Republican-dominated Senate will be hard pressed to make major changes in the Reagan program, although they may have a better chance in the House, which they still control.
But they will also have their problems there. Yesterday, for example, the House Agriculture Committee reversed its diary subcommittee and agreed to a Reagan plan cutting milk price supports [Details on Page A3]. a
Next week on the Senate floor, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), ranking miniority member on the Budget Committee, said the Democrats will propose an alternative restoring money for food stamps, school lunches, education and jobs, community development and urban grants, regional assistance, veterans benefits and the Social Security minimum benefit -- which, along with welfare, housing, and many other social programs, were among the major targets of the Reagan cuts. Most of these issues drew close votes in the committee. But even if all the Democratic proposals were adopted, spending would be increased by less than $4 billion.
Moreover, the Republicans will lead from strength in light of the unanimous Budget Committee vote in which dissident Democrats appeared to be hedging their bets, complaining loudly about the cuts and then voting for the resolution that included them. Domenici suggested that "pressure from constituents" explained their behavior.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) complained that the committee had been led on a "forced march" to approve the plan in haste and warned Reagan to broaden the burden of the cuts to avoid losing public support.
Charging that Reagan was trying to "turn the clock back 20, 30, 40 years," Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) asserted that Reagan was "wreaking unbelievable havoc on millions of Americans" who depend on the government for social programs that are to be scaled back or eliminated. "We have perverted the budget process," declared Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.). "We have undercut 30 years of social legislation in three days." (
All, however, wound up voting to send the resolution to the Senate floor. "When all is said and done," said Metzenbaum, "I expect the president will get pretty much what he wants."
The disarray of the Democrats was evident throughout the three days of work on the measure, highlighted when Hollings tried unsuccessfully to include in the list of instructions his own very different version of the administration's tax cut proposal. Hollings' proposals, concentrating the first year on business tax reductions and costing less than half the administration plan, was defeated, 15 to 3, with only Hart and Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.) joining Hollings in support of it.
In another Democratic initiative, Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) sought to require the administration to come up with $1.3 billion in savings from curbing waste, fraud and abuse, which Reagan had promised to root out during his campaign. The Committee adopted the Chiles proposal but only as a suggestion to the Governmental Affairs Committee, not as part of the formal instructions.
The instructions call on each legislative committee to come up with a specified dollar-volume of savings from programs within its jurisdiction. It will be up to these other committees to decide which programs to dig into, although their choices are limited in many cases, making it difficult for them to vary much from the Budget Committee's (and Reagan's) game plan.
The instructions cover three years, calling for savings of $2.8 billion in 1981, $36.4 billion in 1982 and $47.7 billion in 1983. Reagan had proposed a savings figure of $48.6 billion for 1982, but the Budget Committee, using different spending assumptions, calculated Reagan's proposed savings at $42.9 billion.
The budget panel also decided that $8.8 billion of Reagan's proposed savings had to be handled separately. Thus it started with a Reagan base of $34.1 billion, to which it added $2.3 billion, for an overall total of $36.4 billion for next year.
The action of the Energy Committee indicates that, despite the "euphoria" that several Budget Committee members cited over the spending cuts, the other committees may not roll over all that easily, especially in the House. Pressure for the petroleum reserve money was so strong that committee Chairman James McClure (R-Idaho), who favored the cut, voted to restore the money -- and even voted Domenici's proxy against the cut that Domenici's committee had just approved.