Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) called on President Reagan yesterday to withdraw his controversial new budget as Republicans bucked White House objections and welcomed a Democratic alternative as a starting point for revamping the Reagan plan.
Reagan responded by asking for a meeting today with ranking congressional Republicans to discuss his proposal, which many in the GOP were saying could not pass Congress without major revisions to reduce the likely deficit.
Only a day after Reagan challenged his budget critics to "put up or shut up," Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) fleshed out details of his plan for fiscal 1983 to freeze defense spending and federal pay, eliminate cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other retirement programs and partially roll back the tax cut that Congress approved last year.
The White House promptly spurned the plan as both sketchy and defective, and Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan called it "absolutely ridiculous."
But, even as the administration was putting down the plan, leaders of the Senate Republican majority were hailing it as a constructive start, although they disagreed with some specifics, especially the tax cut rollback.
"Interesting and worthwhile," said Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.). "A very interesting proposal we ought to pursue," said Majority Whip Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). "It has merit and ought to be looked at," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who added: "There's a great deal of difficulty up here in accepting the president's proposal as is."
Ironically, the strongest congressional objection came from House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who normally doesn't agree with Reagan on much. "I just don't particularly care for it the Hollings plan ," he said, without elaboration.
Republican sources indicated that Hollings' specific proposals were probably "dead in the water" because of White House objections. But the Hollings plan had apparently served its major purpose, from the GOP standpoint, in prodding the White House toward consultations on the budget.
After an afternoon White House meeting on the fast-breaking budget crisis, Reagan summoned Baker, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), his closest friend in Congress, to a meeting today at the White House.
Byrd's appeal for outright withdrawal of the budget drew an expected rejection from the administration--and a gentle putdown from Baker. Treasury's Regan said "the president studied that budget very carefully before he submitted it. He likes it. He's going to stick with it." And Baker said of Byrd, whom he succeeded as majority leader when the Republicans took over the Senate: "I understand his feelings. I used to do that kind of thing myself."
Byrd also said a task force of 18 Democratic senators is working on alternatives to Reagan's budget and expects to have some proposals in hand in a couple of weeks.
In advancing his plan, Hollings said he was not wedded to its specifics but hoped it would lead to a bipartisan effort to reduce deficits. In contrast with Reagan's projected deficit of $91.5 billion for fiscal 1983, Hollings would keep the deficit at $42 billion by jettisoning Reagan's proposed defense increase, domestic spending cuts and tax proposals and substituting for them:
* A defense spending freeze at current levels for fiscal 1983, with 3 percent growth after inflation in future years; savings would be $19 billion next year.
* A freeze on federal pay for 1983, meaning no raise this October, saving $5 billion.
* Elimination of cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government pension programs in fiscal 1983, with scaled-back increases in future years; this would save $24 billion next year. Cost-of-living increases would be continued for food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare on grounds they were already cut.
* Elimination of the 10 percent individual income tax cut scheduled for this July 1, and reduction of the July, 1983, tax cut from 10 percent to 5 percent. Future adjustment of tax rates to account for inflation, also approved as part of last year's tax cut bill, would be repealed, along with the bill's provisions allowing corporations to buy and sell tax breaks. The tax changes would save an estimated $48 billion.
Hollings told the Senate his plan would produce a balanced budget by 1984, the year for which Reagan forecasts a deficit of $82 billion.
"Instead of a balanced budget," said Hollings of Reagan's budget, "we are told that if you have seen one deficit, you have seen them all." Speaking of Reagan's proposed deficit reductions, he said they present a "$50 billion solution to a $150 billion problem," and added: "Failure to bite the bullet now makes us have to swallow it later."
In response to Hollings' proposal, deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes said, "On its face, this proposal may have a simple appeal. But that very simplicity masks some fundamental problems, especially in the areas of taxation, entitlements [the pension programs] and defense."