The budget battle lines were drawn in Congress yesterday as rival bipartisan coalitions emerged in the House. They included an alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats who hope to duplicate President Reagan's winning budget strategy of last year with another round of big cuts in social welfare spending.
This coalition is pitted against another seeking support among moderates of both parties and viewing its proposal as a possible fallback compromise in the case of stalemate.
Although there was considerable crossing of ideological lines in the two camps, the proposal by Republicans and conservative Democrats appeared more in line with Reagan's original budget. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) indicated that the moderates' proposal would be acceptable to him.
Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) said he still supports the committee's version of the budget but could accept the moderates' proposal as a compromise.
But the White House, which has had to abandon the original Reagan budget and is faced with different Republican budgets in the House and Senate, stayed some distance from the Capitol Hill skirmishing. "As we've indicated, we'll let Congress work its will," White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said.
The unveiling of the House plans, numbering at least four, came as the Republican-controlled Senate rejected the first in an expected series of Democratic proposals to restore funds that its Budget Committee proposed to cut from social programs.
Voting 60 to 39, it spurned a bid by Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to restore $2.6 billion next year for Medicare and Medicaid, largely to shield recipients from program cuts and fee increases.
"If you're old and sick, you're going to be penalized," Kennedy claimed.
But the Senate GOP leadership, facing defection of Republican moderates, formally revamped the committee's proposal to drop $40 billion in Social Security savings and add another $19 billion in domestic spending and $6 billion in tax increases over the next three years. That prompted gloating by Democrats. "We've run the Republicans off on the issue of Social Security," Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) claimed as Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) congratulated the Republicans on "coming around to our point of view."
As the Senate headed into a night session, it voted, 53 to 44, to table a proposal by Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) for a deeper cut than the Budget Committee recommended in Reagan's big buildup in defense spending.
The proposal would have reduced the "real," or after-inflation, growth in defense spending from 9.7 to 7 percent, saving $14 billion over three years. The vote was expected to be close, and the Republican leadership had arranged to have Vice President Bush on hand to vote in case of a tie.
Shortly before adjourning, the Senate rejected, 54 to 44, a Democratic proposal to restore $2.1 billion in education spending for the next three years but accepted without argument a Democratic proposal to restore about $20 million for child immunization programs for the same period.
Scheduled today is a Democratic attempt to shelve the 10 percent income tax cut set for July, 1983. The proposal would cut $7.5 billion from next year's budget deficit and nearly $77 billion cumulatively over the next three years, reducing the projected 1985 deficit from $64 billion to $28 billion, according to Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chief sponsor of the proposal.
The Senate is trying to complete its version of the budget by today or tomorrow, but the House will not start even formal floor proceedings until tomorrow, and completion is not expected until the middle of next week. All of the major versions in the two houses aim for deficits of about $100 billion, with the big fights coming over how much to increase taxes and where to cut spending.
In the House, the plan advanced by Republican leaders and conservative Democrats would cut more heavily into domestic spending and less heavily into defense spending than either the rival bipartisan proposal or the plan advanced by the House Budget Committee. It would also raise taxes by a considerably smaller amount.
Like most other versions, it includes a freeze on domestic appropriations, with some modifications, but cuts benefit entitlement programs--not including Social Security--more heavily. The moderates' plan is closer to the Budget Committee proposal but would raise less in taxes and cut spending a little more, with other modifications, including cuts in loan programs, to produce a lower deficit than either of the two plans does.
Their deficit would be $95.1 billion, compared with $101.4 billion for the Republicans and conservative Democrats and $101 billion for the House Budget Committee. The projected deficit in the Senate plan, after additions yesterday, was $115.3 billion.
Other House plans include one offered earlier by the Congressional Black Caucus and another proposed yesterday by Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) on behalf of himself and other Democratic liberals. It would produce a relatively low deficit, with fewer domestic spending cuts, largely by a restructuring and reduction of Reagan's tax cuts for this year and next.
The seriousness with which the Democrats approach the proposal by Republicans and conservative Democrats was underscored yesterday by O'Neill's attack on one of its provisions, a $23.2 billion cut in Medicare over the next three years.
"No one stoops so low as he who mugs the old and disabled," he said in accusing his opposition of engaging in "another cruel game of blind man's bluff" over the budget.
Jones also accused the Republicans of using "phony" numbers in their proposal by assuming a lower deficit for the current fiscal year, thereby saving debt costs for next year. That shaves billions off their deficit projection, Jones said.
While the conservative Democratic "Boll Weevils" characterized their plan as one that reduces deficits by cutting spending, the moderate Republican "Gypsy Moths" supporting it called attention to some of the spending it restores to Reagan's original budget, including funds for welfare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
Asked at a news conference about the apparent contradiction, Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) said: "Well, it all depends . . . . It does both . . . . It was a compromise."
As the laughter died down, he said it was difficult trying to negotiate a compromise with the Democratic conservatives. "You're in a snake pit with those guys," Conte added.