Congress, sorting through the rubble of its collapsed budget negotiations with the White House, yesterday began drafting a fiscal plan of its own as the Senate Budget Committee agreed that next year's deficit will hit $182 billion if no further steps are taken to reduce it.
The new deficit estimate, roughly three times larger than any deficit ever recorded before the current fiscal year, pointed up the vastness of Congress's task, which was also underscored by the political infighting that quickly erupted in the aftermath of the negotiations breakdown Wednesday.
In a sampling of the day's recriminations, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) was accusing President Reagan yesterday morning of having offered the country a "raw deal," while House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) was slapping at O'Neill as "one of the last of the big-time spenders."
Democrats also went out of their way to circulate potentially embarrassing remarks that Reagan was alleged to have made in a final, private bargaining session with O'Neill and other congressional leaders on Wednesday. In reference to charges that his program was unfair, Reagan was reported by a Democratic participant to have said, "I read that crap about my program . . . . We haven't thrown anybody out in the snow to die."
Underneath these fireworks were signs that Congress was becoming even more squeamish about some of the controversial deficit reduction proposals, including tax increases and cuts in cost-of-living allowances for Social Security, that contributed to the budget impasse between Reagan and O'Neill.
Both Michel and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) appeared to dismiss Social Security cuts, which most Democrats also oppose, as a deficit-cutting option for next year.
"I doubt very much that Social Security is on the bargaining table" for Congress, said Michel. "I would say we would have rather severe reservations" about Social Security cuts, said Dole.
Dole also questioned whether an income surtax would be approved, and ruled out any chance of repealing the scheduled 1983 individual income tax cut, which Reagan has vowed to retain in the face of Democratic efforts to scuttle it. Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said after a conference meeting that "there's no support in the conference for raising taxes." Other sources said there may be some support for modest tax increases to reduce the deficit but acknowledged that it is not strong.
Michel, with other House Republican leaders agreeing, said Congress should "start from scratch" in preparing budget savings rather than accepting proposals developed in the bipartisan negotiations, including the $122 billion in tax increases over three years that Reagan was reported to have been willing to accept.
With Social Security and taxes fading as likely deficit reductions, Michel said it would be "very difficult," although not impossible, to reach the negotiators' goals, which included deficits of no more than $110 billion in 1983, $88 billion in 1984 and $50 billion in 1985.
In positioning themselves for future struggles now that Congress has lost the political protection of bipartisan negotiations, both parties also escalated their partisan rhetoric and issued reams of paper aimed at avoiding blame for the talks' collapse and for any unpopular proposals that emerged during the month-long proceedings.
Even at the Senate Budget Committee, which has a stronger bipartisan tradition than many, the mood became fiesty after the Republican-controlled panel, in almost routine fashion, accepted the $182 billion deficit estimate as a starting point for budget surgery.
That figure is $24.3 billion more than the $157.7 the committee fore-saw less than a month ago as the likely deficit for fiscal 1983 if no tax increases or spending cuts were approved by Congress. The difference stems from more pessimistic economic assumptions, especially about unemployment rates and economic growth, and from a variety of changes in spending assumptions, including incorporation of Reagan's proposals for defense buildup. The committee also estimated in similar fashion that the deficit for fiscal 1982, the current year, will be $119.3 billion.
With that out of the way, Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) proposed that the committee declare its intention to reduce the 1983 deficit to less than $110 billion, with corrresponding reductions for future deficits--only to be upstaged by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), the ranking Democrat, who challenged the committee to vote right away on Reagan's budget.
Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) had already declared that Reagan's budget would be rejected by the committee and strongly opposed Hollings' gambit, finally abruptly adjourning the meeting to avoid a vote on the president's plan.
Lost in the shuffle was Chiles' proposal, which appeared likely to pass despite Hollings' criticism that the figures, which came from a Republican-drafted work sheet used in the negotiations with the White House, were "misleading" and inadequate as deficit-reduction targets.
Hollings, nursing a sore tooth, had previously submitted a strongly-worded written statement that blamed Reagan for collapse of the negotiations.
"They came apart because, even though Republicans and Democrats were in accord that the president's budget was deeply flawed, they could not make the president see that he was pointing us to economic Armageddon," said Hollings' statement.
"With the economy in flames, the president has preferred to let the problem burn itself out, to allow the deficits to leap ever higher rather than dousing them with adequate revenues," it continued.
Appealing for stronger medicine that just a compromise with Reagan, Hollings' statment asserted that "the only trouble is that a middle ground would still leave us with serious deficits" and "we need to isolate the deficit as the main problem and cut it drastically."
Hollings wound up the statement with a quotation from Calvin Coolidge, one of Reagan's presidential heroes, to the effect that debt is "the largest obstacle in the path of our economic development."
Domenici said at the meeting that he intends to begin detailed work on the budget next Tuesday and finish by Thursday or Friday. This would enable the Senate to meet the May 15 target for passage of a congressional budget resolution, although the House would still have to act on it.
O'Neill made it clear yesterday that he will let the Republican Senate take the first plunge on the budget, although the House Budget Committee is planning to begin work next week in order to be prepared in case of "political flim-flam," as the committee's chairman, Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), put it.
O'Neill also continued his attack on Reagan's agreement Wednesday to consider a three-month delay in the effective date of the 1983 tax cut in exchange for a three-month delay in this year's Social Security inflation adjustment. Contending that the offer entailed $7.6 billion in tax increases affecting mostly the rich and $16.6 billion in Social Security cuts for the elderly, O'Neill said it amounted to "offering an apple for an orchard."
But Republicans came back just as hard against O'Neill as the Democrats, with Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) accusing the Democrats of ruining the talks by "trying to undo what we did last year" and House Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) saying it is now the speaker's responsibility to come up with a budget counter proposal.
Added Kemp: "They wanted to politically embarrass the president by lifting the third year of the tax cut, and the president wouldn't do it."
However, Kemp indicated some displeasure with Reagan for going as far as he did on tax increases, saying the pressident came "dangerously close" to abandoning the supply-side school of economics that believes in economic growth through tax cuts. GRAHICS(AP): In the wake of negotiations collapse, House Republican leaders hold a news conference to discuss their budget plans. From left are Reps. Cheney, Kemp,Michel, and Lott.