Rebellious Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee defied President Reagan yesterday and moved ahead with consideration of $160 billion in tax increases and spending cuts to balance the federal budget by 1984.
But in a political world turned upside down, the Democratic-controlled House Budget Committee avoided confrontation with the president by approving a GOP-sponsored second budget resolution for fiscal 1982 that puts off all major decisions until next year and camouflages the resulting deficits.
The contradictory actions came after Reagan, in a meeting with congressional leaders, reaffirmed his desire to defer any major budget initiatives, including tax increases, until he can present his budget next January.
The budget committees acted as:
The House, in a victory for the president, barely preserved on a tie vote an Interior Department appropriations bill about $1 billion more generous than the president wants; the vote was proof his threatened veto could be sustained.
Conferees on another appropriations bill, for the Transportation Department, also agreed on a larger amount than Reagan wants.
On the more immediate issue of funding the government after next Friday, when current authority to spend expires and no appropriations bills are expected to have been signed into law, the House Apppropriations Commiteee approved a so-called continuing resolution--and it, too, substantially exceeds the targets Reagan set in September in urging a 12 percent across-the-board cut from his original proposals for domestic spending.
The Senate is expected to reduce these stopgap spending levels, at least somewhat. But some congressional leaders fear the continuing resolution could nevertheless qualify as the kind of "budget-busting" money bill Reagan has repeatedly vowed to veto. A veto, unless overridden by two-thirds votes of both houses, could paralyze the government.
Even if the Senate Republican budget rebellion fizzles, as is expected when the time arrives for adoption of an actual budget resolution, yesterday's actions underscore the mounting difficulties Reagan now faces in Congress after his dramatic budget victories of the summer.
The $160 billion plan, which includes $48 billion in tax increases for 1983 and 1984 that Reagan has indicated he doesn't want, was advanced by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and endorsed with varying enthusiasm by seven of the 11 other committee Republicans.
Domenici submitted the plan despite objections from both Reagan and Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.).
Noting these objections and the likelihood of House rejection, Domenici told the committee that "only something like a miracle will allow this plan to be adopted this year by the entire Congress." But he said he thought it was important to push ahead anyway for several reasons, notably "to dispel the false notion that Congress is in a muddle and has no notions about how to move ahead to reduce federal deficits and their impact on inflation and interest rates."
Some other Republicans were more pointed. "The flag of leadership is passing from the White House to this committee," said Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.).
Domenici contended that his plan would produce a balanced budget by 1984, a goal that Reagan has abandoned but that many Senate Republicans still want to pursue.
Over three years it would cut benefit entitlement programs by $39 billion, military expansion by $26 billion and domestic appropriations by $32 billion. While there would be no tax increase in fiscal 1982, increases of $10 billion in 1983 and $38 billion in 1984 could come from closing tax loopholes or raising excise taxes, Domenici suggested.
The plan also includes "reconciliation" instructions to committees to come up with the tax increases and most of the entitlement cuts by next March 15.
In a brief minuet with the steps worked out beforehand, the House Budget Committee completed action on a second budget resolution based on the administration's original economic assumptions, which Democrats and Republicans agree are no good.
The motion to accept this questionable version of the budget--a step intended simply to put off the whole issue until next year--was made by the ranking Republican, Rep. Delbert L. Latta (Ohio), although no serious Democratic opposition emerged.
"We are down to our last few chips. We are going to let the GOP play out their gamble," Rep. Leon E. Panetta, a California Democrat, said. "If you update the resolution , it takes you to the next position--doing something about it--and nobody was prepared to do that."
During the brief committee deliberations, Republicans declined by silence a series of pointed Democratic offers to propose additional spending cuts along lines Reagan called for in September.
The budget approved by the panel calls for a deficit of just $37.5 billion in 1982, although almost everyone involved in the process, including private estimates by the Office of Management and Budget, calculate that this underestimates reality by about half. The $37.5 billion figure is based on rapid economic growth, disregarding the current recession.
Democrats proposed, but easily gave up on, a set of economic assumptions that, given the same legislative program, showed the deficit reaching $76.4 billion in 1982, and a three-year total deficit of about $360 billion through 1984.