Senate committees exceeded their target of $35 billion in budget cuts for next fiscal year by nearly $2 billion and most House committees met or surpassed their allotted quotas for cuts, according to preliminary estimates released yesterday.
If the estimates withstand a weekend of intense scrutiny by the Congressional Budget Office, it will mean the committees, at least on paper, made good on the promise of austerity Congress put forth in its budget resolution last month.
It would also mean that, aside from his proposed Social Security benefit cuts, President Reagan has won virtually all he sought in budget reductions, although not necessarily in the form he proposed.
Moreover, Congress is slashing away on schedule, meeting deadlines that once seemed extraordinary for a body that normally acts with no more than deliberate speed on budget matters.
It has been less than three months since Reagan proposed his cuts, and only three weeks since Congress issued the spending-cut instructions to the committees.
"We are eminently pleased with the results . . . it's the most dramatic reduction in ongoing programs in the history of the country," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) as he released tentative figures indicating that the Republican-controlled Senate committees cut $37.1 billion compared with a target of $35.2 billion.
Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Budget Committee's task force on budget cuts, had no aggregate figures for actions by the Democratic-controlled House committees but indicated most had complied and some had gone beyond.
While it was a "wrenching process" for some committees, "most have really done an outstanding job in meeting the targets," said Panetta, conceding that he was surprised bythe lack of foot-dragging by some committees.
But not everyone was happy, especially with the way some of the cuts were made.
Rep. Phil Gramm (D-Tex.), the conservative Democrat working with House Republicans on a possible across-the-board substitute for the committee's handiwork, complained that "many of the proposed cuts won't cut spending" and that "most of the package falls apart in 1983 and 1984." A balanced budget by 1984 "is going to slip through our grasp," he added.
As an example of what he called deceptive cuts, Gramm pointed to a propsed "cap" on food stamp spending that he says means Congress will "cut the poor people off food stamps the week before Christmas or, more likely, pass a supplemental [appropriation] and bust the budget."
He also protested that some other proposed cuts, such as closing up to 10,000 post offices, are so unpalatable that Congress is bound to renege on them later.
In addition, Panetta and some other members point out that the Senate Energy Committee and the Democratic majority on the House Energy Committee met their targets only by assuming that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will be financed next year by nearly $4 billion in private financing, meaning it is not counted in the budget.
If the $4 billin has to be put back in the budget, total savings would be less than $32 billion, Domenici noted.
Gramm said it won't be decided until early next week whether to go ahead with a substitute but added: "It is difficult to see how we can correct the problems with the package without going with a substitute on the floor."
The proposed cuts from the 15 House and 14 Senate committees will be packaged next week into omnibus bills for consideration on the floor of both houses, probably the week of June 22.
In the House, the Rule Committee will have to decide what if any amendments to allow, including add-back proposals from liberal Democrats as well as the possible Republican substitute.
The House Democratic leadership has not decided what strategy to follow, but Majority Whip Thomas S. Foley (d-Wash.) said yesterday he thought the Republicans would at least get a chance for a floor vote on whether their substitute should be considered.
Domenici declined to say whether he would welcome a House Republican substitute but said he would be pleased with any reasonable move to ease the enormous problems the two houses are expected to have in resolving differences, which is one of the ostensible purposes of the House Republican initiative.
Some committees in both houses failed to provide for their quotas of cuts for 1983 and 1984, one target of criticism by House Republicans. However, Senate committees fell about $9 billion short of their targeted savings for the two years, and Domenici said he believes the savings can be found later.