House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. said yesterday he will not agree to any proposal for curbing the growth of Social Security benefits if President Reagan continues to resist changes in the program of tax cuts the administration pushed through Congress last year.
Tempering the optimism he expressed Monday about the negotiations between House Democrats and the White House to reduce the 1983 budget deficit, O'Neill (D-Mass.) said yesterday:
"I am as firm on Social Security as the president is on the tax cut. In no way are we going to balance the budget on the backs of the senior citizens of America."
Meanwhile yesterday, a group of moderate and conservative House Republicans who last year strongly supported Reagan's budget indicated dissatisfaction with the administration's 1983 budget. The nine members of the GOP's House Task Force on Economic Policy plan to announce today a series of "options" that they said would trim about $86 billion from the 1983 deficit by imposing a $5-a-barrel oil import fee, cutting the defense budget sharply and shaving expenditures for a wide variety of other programs. The administration initially projected a $91.5 billion deficit for 1983.
"We're saying the deficit as proposed is simply unacceptable to the economic framework of this nation and it has to be cut," said Rep. Stanford Parris (R-Va.), chairman of the task force. "There is a kind of desperate understanding on the Hill that the budget process has got to go forward and we are just offering some options."
On Monday, Reagan and O'Neill, in separate sessions with reporters, expressed enthusiasm about signs of movement in the talks between House Democratic leaders and White House aides to break the budget impasse. The talks between the administration and House Democrats are expected to continue through the Easter recess, and Reagan said he looked forward to progress when Congress returns.
Despite his adamant statements yesterday, O'Neill was careful not to rule out the possibility of an agreement. "Let's not say there's a stalemate," he said. "Let's say they're still working it out."
"The reason I am optimistic about these talks is that most Republicans and most Democrats agree that unless we make a mid-course correction in the Reagan policy, there is a real risk of financial and economic calamity in our country."
In the discussions, White House aides reportedly have moved toward the Democrats, who are seeking cuts in defense spending. "They're coming close--a lot closer," one Democratic congressional aide said of the White House.
O'Neill's statements yesterday were seen as signaling, however, that the Democrats also want changes in the tax program in exchange for an agreement by them to slow the growth of Social Security and other entitlement benefits.
Reagan has said repeatedly that he will not agree to changes in the tax cuts, and aides have said he would veto any efforts to do so. However, White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes declined to comment, citing the delicacy of the negotiations on Capitol Hill, when asked yesterday if the president would support a 4 percent income tax surcharge.
While talks between the White House and Democratic leaders in the House continued yesterday, the task force of nine House Republicans prepared its own set of options for reducing the deficit.
They said $17 billion could be cut from the defense budget by, among other things, minimizing waste in management, curbing "personnel level increases" Reagan has proposed and restricting the procurement of noncombat aircraft. They said these savings could be achieved without touching any of the major military weapons systems such as the B1 bomber and MX missile.
They said $8.7 billion in revenues could be raised with a $5-a-barrel oil import fee, and an additional $3 billion could be saved by eliminating the controversial provision in last year's tax bill that allows corporations to sell tax breaks.
To reach their goal of reducing the deficit by $86 billion, they also are counting on a huge drop in interest payments on the national debt.
The task force, which supported Reagan's economic proposals last year to the point of raising funds to finance television commercials touting his tax cuts, said they wanted to signal the president about their concern over the size of the deficit.
"I don't mind telling you, I think time's a-wasting," said member W. Henson Moore (R-La.). "A lot of our Democratic colleagues are frustrated. They see no movement. We want to let them know that we Republican members of the House are willing to compromise and move."