Democratic leaders warned President Reagan yesterday that time is running out on a possible bipartisan budget for next fiscal year and said he is risking governmental paralysis if he continues to balk at compromise.
Their warning came on a day of frustration over the budget on the Hill, with freshman House Republicans accusing the Democrats of delay and threatening procedural warfare to block the House's scheduled Easter recess if there is no action. In the Senate another major committee got tied in knots over spending cuts.
Outwardly unmoved, the White House responded to Democratic appeals for a truce in the partisan budget wars by indicating that Reagan had no intention of abandoning his attacks on Democratic critics of his budget.
And, in response to Democratic demands that Reagan move quickly toward a compromise, White House officials said it is Congress that must first "get its act together."
So "let a thousand flowers bloom up there," said White House communications director David R. Gergen.
While Congress was still swarming with alternative budget plans, Senate Republican leaders were reported to have come up with a "working sheet" of proposals for submission to all Senate Republicans Tuesday, including cuts in defense and benefit entitlement programs as well as tax increases to reduce deficits over the next three years.
If all the options were approved, including a freeze on Social Security and other entitlements, there would be a deficit of $86 billion next year, reduced to $20 billion by 1985, sources said. Under Reagan's budget the Congressional Budget Office has projected deficits of $121 billion next year and $140 billion in 1985.
The most accommodating note of the day came from House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who called for budget compromise with the White House in a speech to the National Newspaper Association. But O'Neill continued to criticize Reagan's economic policies and partisan style, warning that, "As long as he persists in that kind of attitude, as long as he keeps his political saber drawn, I see no hope for compromise."
O'Neill aside, accommodation was not the order of the day as Congress, frustrated by failure to accomplish anything so far this year and by mounting fears of continued stalemate, lashed out in all directions.
The day started with GOP freshmen going before television cameras to threaten to create havoc in the House with incessant roll calls and attempts to block the Easter recess if Democrats don't get moving on the budget and other matters.
"We're not going to sit here like worms and wait for the seagulls to come in," said Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.), who blamed the Democrats for not coming up with an alternative to Reagan's budget.
Accusing the first-termers of "showboating," House Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) responded that he and other Democrats simply have been trying to accommodate Republicans who want changes in Reagan's budget. But "if they want a showdown . . . I'm willing to accommodate them" by sending Reagan's budget to the House floor without change, Jones said.
That is not what most Republicans have in mind, and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) was quick to try to disavow the freshmen's rebellion.
But O'Neill seized with relish the freshmen's complaint that nothing was happening in the House. "New legislation costs money," said O'Neill, who is always being called a big spender by the Republicans. "They've been yammering since 1974 that there was too much legislation on the floor," he said, adding that they want off the hook for votes they made last year.
As the war of words continued in the House, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) fired off a letter to Reagan warning that, "Unless you note your approval for compromise in the next two weeks, the necessary climate for fiscal discipline will never jell" in Congress.
Enclosing a copy of his budget plan, which he said would put the country "on the glide path toward government in the black by 1985," Hollings said Congress will "opt for patience rather than sacrifice" if Reagan continues to insist that his program only needs more time to work.
The result, Hollings added, will be a conclusion by the American people that "Its government in Washington has reached a paralysis." That paralysis, he told reporters, could last until after the November elections.
Hollings' proposal moves in the same direction as the plan under study by Senate Republican leaders. But Democrats like Hollings are reluctant to join in writing a budget that might pass Congress if Reagan continues to blame them for what's wrong with the economy, as he has done in recent speeches.
No Democrat will "get out on that limb" if the president is going to try to saw it off, Hollings said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee, faced with subcommittee funding requests that exceed Reagan's targets by nearly $18 billion, quit in disarray over its spending recommendations to the Budget Committee for next year.
In the latest in a series of committee rebuffs to Reagan's proposed spending cuts, the Republican-controlled Senate panel put off a decision after it became clear that it couldn't agree on Reagan's proposals or a substitute proposed by Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.).
Hatfield's proposal would freeze domestic spending at 1982 levels, thereby avoiding some of the deep social program cuts that Reagan proposed, and cut nearly $10 billion from Reagan's proposal for defense. Hatfield's proposal is part of the plan under study by the Senate Republican leaders.
While some senators complained that domestic appropriations had been cut enough already, others objected to deeper cuts in defense. There were suggestions for tax increases and entitlement cuts, which are basically the responsibilities of other committees.