House Democrats, claiming to have exceeded their budget-cutting target by $2.4 billon, planned to smooth some rough edges off their proposals and then hunker down for a fight over them with Republicans and the Reagan administration.
In a day of maneuvering aimed at hedlines and procedural advantage, the two parties edged closer to another head-to-head budget fight, with Republicans vowing to push for a substitute if the Democrats will not meet their conditions.
The Democrats show no signs of doing so. Apparently, they will make the best of their plight, mindful that President Reagan won the first budget showdown in the House despite its ostensible Democratic majority.
Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee will meet today to consider restoring some funds for popular programs that the committee cut earlier when it anticipated an opportunity for a major restoration effort on the House floor.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) has repeatedly endorsed such a strategy to salvage particular programs in a floor fight, but he apparently does not have the backing of Democratic committee chairmen in the endeavor. If he does not have their backing, it would be a major setback for him and his strategy for minimizing losses from social programs.
In reaffirming that he will seek to bar a flurry of floor amendments when the $37.5 billion package of cuts comes to the House floor next week, Budget Committed Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) said at least 13 of the committtee chairmen involved in the so-called "reconciliation" effort do not want any amendments.
One of the dissenters is Education and Labor Committee Chairman Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.), who planned a major restoration effort on the floor. Fearing that opportunity will be foreclosed, committee Democrats now are planning their own surgery, according to Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.).
Simon said the committee is considering switching $1 billion previously retained for public service jobs to programs such as meals for the elderly, Head Start classes for pre-schoolers, college loans and impact aid for school districts.
Those were among cuts that Reagan's Office of Management and Budget targeted for criticism in a point-by-point indictment of the committee-drafted cuts compiled for ammunition to be used by House Republicans and conservative Democratic allies. But Simon said the Democrats were prompted more by fear of a lockout on amendments than by the administration criticism.
The "closed rule" against amendments that Jones is advocating presumably would bar Republicans from offering a substitute in the normal way, but Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) told reporters that procedural opportunities are available to get it to the House floor in any case.
Using examples of allegedly deceptive cuts supplied by OMB, Michel said at least six committees, including Education and Labor, would have to change their plans to avoid a Republican substitute.
Rep. Phil Gramm (D-Tex.), who, with Rep. Delbert L. Latta (R-Ohio), led the conservative coalition that gave Reagan his first budget vicotry, said that about $10 billion of the $37.5 billion in cuts claimed by the Democrats will not provide savings.
But Jones defended them as real and accused the administration of engaging in "science fiction" in criticizing Democrats for making cuts in the same areas targeted by Reagan for reduction.
The Budget Committee tally showed savings of $37.5 billion for fiscal 1982, which is $2.4 billion more than the $35.1 billion that Congress directed the committees to make in passing its first budget resolution last month. Only Education and Labor and Merchant Marine and Fisheries failed to comply fully, but not by much.
Savings claimed by House Democrats are even higher than the nearly $2 billion claimed by Budget Committee Chairman Ptet V. Domenici (R-N.M.) in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Savings also match or exceed targets for 1983 and 1984.
Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), head of the Houst committee's task force on reconciliation, said 85 percent of the 250 programs that the committees proposed to cut reflect changes redcommended by Reagan or the budget resolution he endorsed. Moreover, Panetta said, cuts recommended by 10 of the 15 committees were the result of bipartisan efforts.
But Gramm said at least $10 billion worth of the cuts were deceptive because they included such things as making military pension savings contingent on pension savings for civilian government workers that were not approved and "capping" food stamp money without nailing down eligibility changes.