White House officials and congressional Republican leaders mapped out a strategy yesterday aimed at getting past their next government funding deadline without closing the government in the process.
"We need to get a package that's acceptable to the administration and can get passed through Congress," said Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) after an hour-long meeting that included White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.).
As they met, most of Congress had already fled town, exhausted after a grueling weekend stalemate over government funding that resulted in a presidential veto and day-long shutdown of most of the bureaucracy. The impasse was ended late Monday when Congress, bowing to President Reagan, approved emergency funding until Dec. 15.
To avoid further upheaval then, the White House and congressional leaders agreed to try to draft a package by the end of next week that could be passed in identical form by both houses without having to go through a House-Senate conference, according to Senate sources. It was such a conference that produced the bill Reagan vetoed Monday.
In addition, the sources said, the leaders will try to come up with a common numerical base by which to assess whether the new measure meets Reagan's demand for at least half the $8.4 billion in domestic appropriations savings that he had proposed for fiscal 1982.
The lack of such prior agreement last time resulted in vastly different claims about savings.
"We're trying to get everyone singing the same song--using the same numbers," said a Senate Republican leadership aide.
It was not clear yesterday whether the effort will succeed. Some lawmakers went home mad, complaining that the administration had used Congress to set the stage for a veto and media blitz that helped bolster Reagan's image as a budget-cutter. But some Democrats as well as Republicans conceded Reagan had the upper hand and would either win the spending battle or continue to blame Congress for the country's economic troubles.
"Out of the nightmarish experience we've had," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), "we've agreed we have to avoid a repetition if we're going to have any credibility left."
The executive-legislative group agreed to set up subcommittees to deal with problems of numbers, strategy and packaging. Also, Senate leaders said they planned to finish floor action by Dec. 15 on all appropriations bills including defense, which has been scheduled for Monday.