President Reagan cannot count on House Democratic support for a budget compromise unless he acknowledges that he is changing course and agrees explicitly to a deal, House Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) said yesterday.
"I'm not going to put my Democrats in a position of trying to be responsible and then getting caught in the crossfire," Jones told a reporter in what amounted to yet another problem for the administration and congressional Republicans in moving Reagan's latest budget proposals through Congress.
Reagan's proposed new budget cuts, which he says are essential to hold down the deficit, have met with resistance even in his own party. Senate Republicans, who have been leading the search for a compromise, regard Jones as critical to success, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) told reporters earlier yesterday that any strategy for packaging budget revisions may well hinge on Jones' cooperation.
Jones, who was burned twice earlier this year when the administration insisted at the last minute on its own alternative to Democratic-drafted budget cuts, said he was willing to cooperate only so long as the administration commits itself in advance.
Unless Reagan "acknowledges he has to change course" and "signs off" on any compromise, "it won't fly" in the Democratic House, said Jones.
Faced with heavy opposition to more painful budget cuts this year, even congressional Republicans are at odds over how to handle Reagan's proposal last month for about $115 billion in spending reductions and revenue increases by 1984. After a rancorous session that produced no agreement Tuesday, House and Senate GOP leaders plan to meet again today.
"If we really wanted to be nasty," said a House Democratic budget aide, noting the Republicans' anguish over Reagan's proposals, "we'd pass the president's budget as it is and see how they'd react."
At a breakfast with reporters, Domenici warned that, without the budget revisions that Reagan wants, the cumulative deficit over the next three years is likely to reach or exceed $200 billion and make the president's goal of a balanced budget by 1984 "very difficult" to achieve. Senate Budget Committee figures indicate the cumulative deficit could reach $250 billion if administration projections prove too optimistic, according to a committee staffer.
The administration's latest official projection is about $180 billion for the three years, although officials acknowledge it is probably "optimistic" in light of the current recession.
The important thing is not so much a precise formula for a balanced budget, said Domenici, but an overall strategy to bring future years' deficits under control.
To meet Reagan's three-year targets, Domenici suggested cuts of $20 billion to $25 billion from appropriations, and $30 billion to $40 billion from entitlement programs, with the rest made up from revenues. Domenici's proposal--and others under consideration in Congress--anticipate less in spending cuts and more in tax increases than Reagan proposed last month.
The entitlement and revenue targets that Domenici outlined would be anticipated in a second budget resolution later this year, with instructions to committees to make the actual changes next year. However, Domenici acknowledged that even the budget resolution may have to be put off until early next year.
Domenici rejected the idea of any rollback of the recently approved tax cut for 1982 or 1983 but said a deferral of the tax cut for 1984 might be considered "at the bottom" of the list of options for raising more revenue.
Domenici said he was willing to consider excise tax increases, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said higher excise (sales) levies on cigarettes and alcohol, along with less in the way of tax deductions for consumer interests, are "real options" for the next three years. While action would not come until next year, Dole said, he anticipates the tax increases would take effect "no later than April 1."