The Reagan administration, already victorious on budget targets and program cuts, is now cracking down on congressional appropriations that aren't shaped the way it wants.
Contending that the House Appropriations Committee is risking spending overruns by the way it is allocating money for next year, Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman has written Committee Chairman Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.) to complain about money bills for the Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Treasury departments.
House consideration of the $11.2 billion Interior bill was held up temporarily Monday when Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), acting on the administration's behalf, complained that it added $600 million to spending levels recommended by Reagan for some programs and left no room for supplemental appropriations.
This complaint caught members of both parties off guard.
Democrats complained angrily that the administration was overreaching and there was enough consternation on the Republican side to prompt Stockman to meet yesterday with Republican members of Appropriations to explain his case.
Sources within the administration said it considers the alleged defects serious enough to warrant a possible presidential veto of the bills if they are not changed. "The possibility of a presidential veto is definitely in the picture," said a source who asked not to be named.
All but the Interior bill fall within congreesional budget targets. But the administration contends that spending is skewed in such a way as to lead to cost overruns for the future, as well as significant policy departures from Reagan's budget. The Democrats contend that the administration is complaining about how money is spent even in cases when its own budget targets are met and insisting on winning its way on every detail.
The Interior bill is illustrative of the dispute.
The committee reduced proposed funding for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by $500 million, reflecting lower-than-anticipated oil prices. The administration objects to the fact that the committee used the money to help restore funds for programs that Reagan targeted for cuts. The administration contends that the money should simply not be spent.
According to an OMB document, the add-ons included $106 million for parkland acquisition, $78 million for energy conservation, $42 million for Indian programs, $129 million for the arts and humanities endowments and $20 million for the Youth Conservation Corps.
The Interior bill exceeds budget targets only because the oil reserve is counted in the budget. If it is put "off-budget," or simply not counted for budget purposes, as both the House and Senate have voted to do, the money bill would be well within the general budget target.
As for the HUD bill, the administration complains that the committee has used $1.1 billion in paper savings from housing bonds to spread over a variety of programs including the National Consumer Cooperative Bank, which Reagan wants to kill. Administration officials argue that the net result will be an increase in spending.