House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) called President Reagan's hand on the budget yesterday by inviting the administration to produce enough Republican votes in the House to pass a foreign aid appropriations bill.
Chafing under charges from Reagan that Congress is dragging its heels on money bills, O'Neill told reporters that the Democratic-controlled House has approved all appropriations bills except the one dealing with foreign aid--and that Republican opposition is responsible for the delay on foreign aid.
O'Neill said he plans to bring up the foreign aid bill on the House floor before the Dec. 15 deadline for another stopgap spending bill for the government and served notice on Reagan that, if he wants a foreign aid bill, it will pass only with Republican help.
During last month's battle over the catchall government spending measure, the administration lobbied for more money for foreign aid than the House proposed, while insisting on less than the House wanted for domestic social programs. The House-Senate compromise that was vetoed by Reagan also provided less for foreign aid than Reagan wanted.
As O'Neill was throwing down his foreign aid gauntlet, House and Senate Republican leaders returned from their five-day Thanksgiving recess to meet again with administration officials in hopes of finding some accord on spending cuts for the new government funding bill that is due Dec. 15.
Embarrassed by a one-day government shutdown that resulted from Reagan's veto of the catchall spending bill, congressional Republicans are trying to reach agreement in advance with the administration before the next funding deadline. But before they can agree on spending levels, they have to find a common ground for computing the numbers, which was a major problem in the earlier showdown.
"We're a distance from the final product, but we're moving in a very cohesive direction now," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) after the session with White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman and other administration officials.
Hatfield said he is confident a package satisfactory to the administration can be put together fairly soon, but he stopped short of predicting whether it will be accepted by the House.
Reagan is insisting on at least half the $8.4 billion in domestic appropriations cuts that he proposed last September. Administration budget officials claimed that the vetoed congressional compromise would have given him less than $2 billion.
House Democratic leaders have not been included in the latest negotiations, and O'Neill accused the administration yesterday of excluding them on purpose. "If they administration officials want to talk to us, we're available, but they aren't interested in talking to us," said O'Neill. "They're concerned with victory. They want victory...the art of compromise isn't in their lexicon."