President Reagan moved yesterday to heal a widening breach with members of his party, saying his recent swipes at budget critics do not apply to Republicans.
Some White House aides described it as a conciliatory gesture that could lead to an eventual budget compromise, although Reagan was described as "dug in" on his tax cut and military buildup programs, which some congressional leaders are pushing to modify.
Concerned by reports that Senate Republicans were miffed at his criticism Tuesday of lawmakers who are attempting to rewrite his budget, Reagan put in a telephone call from Los Angeles to Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) to say that he wasn't talking about fellow members of the GOP.
"I'm talking about those fellows who have been around here for the last 20 years running up the deficits and not offering any alternatives," Reagan told Baker, according to deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes.
"Tell your guys I wasn't talking about us," an aide to Baker quoted the president as saying.
The effort to mollify the critical senators came as Reagan lost support in another major quarter: leaders of the Business Roundtable agreed on a new position paper that breaks cleanly with the president on economic policy. Details on page A10
At the Capitol, Republican leaders were taking a grin-and-bear-it approach to the sharp words the president threw their way on Tuesday, when Reagan, during a vacation swing through the West, said many of the lawmakers who are preparing alternatives to his budget are more concerned with saving their own "political hides" than saving the economy.
They vowed to continue their work on a budget alternative despite Reagan's hard-line rhetoric, and White House officials in California with Reagan said the president is willing to consider the results of their endeavors.
At a briefing after Reagan spoke yesterday on his "New Federalism" program to a town meeting organized by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Speakes said he anticipates that Senate committee chairmen will come up with an alternative proposal within several weeks and that it will be given a "serious look" by the White House.
But at the same time White House aides said privately that Reagan remains fully committed to the two key elements of his budget congressional critics want to scale back to reduce future deficits: the 10 percent across-the-board individual tax cuts planned for the next two years and heavy buildup in military spending.
The aides said they recognize the need for compromise, but one said Reagan was "dug in" on these two points. Speaking of how a meeting between Reagan and his staff might turn out, another aide said, "It's a case where you could have a 12-to-1 vote and the 1 wins."
But on the matter of mollifying the Republicans Reagan was clear. In his Los Angeles speech yesterday he pointedly deleted a reference to "both sides of the aisle" in Congress when he was criticizing those who are complaining about deficits now after never opposing them in the past.
On Capitol Hill, an aide to Baker said the Republican committee chairmen who are working on alternatives may have "elements of a compromise" in hand by the end of the week, although other participants appeared less optimistic.
Asked if he was deterred by Reagan's criticism from working on an alternative, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said, "We've got to keep nudging."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said, "From what I can tell, it hasn't changed our spirit. We have to come up with something."
But Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who is seen by Senate Republicans as critical to their goal of a bipartisan budget compromise, was less sanguine about the effect of Reagan's criticism on congressional budget efforts. He angrily warned that such a compromise could be aborted unless Reagan stops criticizing members of Congress who are working on alternatives.
"He's going to have to sober up. This is serious business," said Hollings, adding, "The more he talks that way out on the stump the harder it's going to be."
Democratic cooperation will not materialize if Reagan is going to blame Congress at every turn, Hollings said. "He's destroying all of the good work on the part of Baker, Dole and Domenici. I'm afraid we're burning too many bridges."
In a similar vein, House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.) suggested an economic "summit conference" to include Reagan, bipartisan leaders in Congress and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker to work out a budget compromise in a less partisan atmosphere.
Cautioning that there are warning signs of a depression, Wright said leaders of both parties have to "swallow our pride" to work for a bipartisan compromise.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) questioned whether Democrats and Republicans could work together in Congress without the president's cooperation, but said he is willing to meet at any time with Reagan to work out a compromise.
In his Los Angeles speech, Reagan also offered an olive branch to local government officials who are fearful that they may be short-changed in the program swaps and revenue transfers that form the heart of Reagan's "New Federalism" program.
When Mayor Robert Bartlett of Monrovia, Calif., said it was important that a "formal mechanism" be set up to assure that local governments get their fair share of money passed on to the states, Reagan inserted in his speech that some way of protecting local governments "must be part of the plan."
In other developments in Congress yesterday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recommended that programs under its jurisdiction be frozen next year at 1982 levels, resulting in some cutbacks but still exceeding Reagan's targets by $550 million.
The committee thus went part way toward complying with a request from Baker Tuesday for deeper spending cuts to avoid what appeared to be emerging as a budget-busting set of spending requests from Senate authorizing committees.
At a House hearing Reagan's proposal to cut funding for subsidized meals for the elderly drew fire from Democrats, who said the cuts will mean an end to subsidized meals for many old people.
Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker said the administration will try to maintain the current number of meals, but, "It's not going to be easy."