The House last night rejected a Republican-drafted budget plan endorsed by President Reagan and then turned down alternatives proposed by the Democratic majority on the House Budget Committee and by a bipartisan group of moderates.
Finally, after rejecting all three budget alternatives on which it had worked all week, the House passed up its last chance to get a budget on its first try, decisively spurning the Budget Committee's original proposal stripped of amendments added on the House floor.
Shortly before adjournment early this morning, Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) said he will call an informal committee meeting today in an attempt to build a "bipartisan consensus" for a new budget alternative that might be reported back to the House next week.
Rejection of the Reagan-backed budget, by a 235-to-192 vote, came after a tumultuous session during which a conservative GOP revolt prompted rejection of any cuts in Medicare, and frustration over the budget process led to defeat of a major enforcement tool for spending controls.
Republicans leaders blamed the restoration of funds for Medicare, at least in part, for their budget defeat.
Defeat of the budget plan that Reagan endorsed after his own budget for fiscal 1983 was shelved by Congress contrasted starkly with his stunning budget victories last year in the Democratic-controlled House.
This time, he lost support from both ends of his winning 1981 coalition, as 20 Republicans, mostly moderate "Gypsy Moths," voted against the GOP budget and only 21 Democrats, mostly conservative "Boll Weevils," supported it.
The vote on the moderates' alternative, which supporters had attempted to characterize as "everyone's second choice," was 289 to 137, with only 29 Republicans supporting it and a narrow majority of Democrats voting against it.
In the first vote on the Budget Committee's plan, the tally was 273 to 171, with no Republicans supporting the proposal.
In the final vote on the unamended committee plan, the count was 265 to 159, even though it meant starting the process over and, in a stern warning from Jones, risking financial crisis for some businesses.
Just before the last vote, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) warned his colleagues that "when Americans wake up and find that Congress did not do its job, what frustration there will be."
The speaker pleaded with liberals and conservatives to put aside their differences and send the unamended committee bill to conference with the Senate. In a weary tone of voice, O'Neill said, "Let's us see if we can do the right thing for America."
Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (Ill.), responding for the Republicans, told O'Neill, "I share your frustration." But he argued that the Republicans had come closer to victory in the budget process than anyone else and could construct a budget if given another week to work.
"It won't be all that tragic," Michel said if the House "goes back and tries again." He said Republicans could pass their plan "if we move a few more degrees to the right" to pick up additional conservative Democratic votes.
Of the three alternatives before the House, the Reagan-backed plan, drafted by Michel and Rep. Delbert L. Latta (Ohio), ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, contained the deepest cuts in social programs and the lowest reductions in Reagan's tax cut program and planned defense buildup.
The Senate has approved a Republican-drafted budget, which was less conservative than the House GOP plan and had been endorsed with some reservations by the White House.
In the House debate, member after member voiced distaste for the budget choices before them. "We've had three turkeys, and this is the granddaddy of them all," conservative Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) said, referring to the Budget Committee plan. "Doing nothing is better than doing this," he asserted.
David R. Obey (D-Wis.), a liberal who spoke on behalf of the bipartisan moderates' plan, said all of the proposals were "lousy" but contended, "Conservatives and liberals alike need to realize we've both been licked . . . but the country needs a 'yes' vote. We must make a decision if we can for our country."
Failure of the House Republican budget drew wild cheers from the Democratic majority, which has had virtually nothing to cheer about since Reagan came into office last year.
But, under the complex "king-of-the-mountain" rules used in voting on the budget, it was not clear whether any budget would come out of the House on this first try to set revenue and spending targets for the fiscal 1983, which starts Oct. 1.
Under these rules, members had to vote separately, up or down, on each budget plan. Since none survived, the House had one last chance to vote on the original budget proposal of the Budget Committee.
During the day, with Republicans splitting left and right, the rebellious House rejected any Medicare cuts, shattering budget strategies of both parties and setting off the frantic effort to salvage passage of any budget resolution on this first try.
Then, in apparent frustration over how the whole budget-control process is working, it voted narrowly to strip from all of the budget proposals a key enforcement provision, under which money bills that exceed spending targets could have been blocked.
Critics charged that the anti-enforcement proposal, offered by Appropriations Committee Chairman Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), would gut any spending controls.
On Medicare, the House voted, 227 to 196, to modify the Republican-drafted budget alternative by shifting $4.8 billion from defense outlays to Medicare next year after a conservative Republican revolt set off a chain reaction of defections across the House floor.
For most of a dramatic roll call, conservative Republicans voted "present" as votes piled up for the defense-to-Medicare transfer, proposed by Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) over the objections of Democratic Party leaders.
Most of the conservatives eventually voted against the transfer; they had wanted simply to signal their dissatisfaction with the GOP leadership and with the large deficit projected by even the Republican budget alternative on the floor.
But by then, enough other Republicans, principally moderates skittish about the deep Medicare cuts in the GOP budget, had bolted to support the transfer, giving it enough votes to pass.
Democratic leaders, who had decided just the night before to abandon efforts to "sweeten" the Republicans' budget with more money for Medicare, dutifully fell in line behind the Medicare spending restoration.
The vote in the Democratic-controlled House to keep the budget ax away from Medicare followed a similar vote in the Republican Senate to avoid any cuts in Social Security, demonstrating again the political clout accompanying the two giant programs for the elderly, especially in an election year.
"There's so much anger and frustration out there now you couldn't even offer the Lord's Prayer," Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said after the House vote on Medicare, although leaders of both parties were claiming toward the day's end that the situation was getting back in hand.
Republican leadership sources, who were saying earlier in the day that "only a miracle" could save the Republicans' budget, had been cautiously optimistic by nightfall that it might win.
All of the plans would have resulted in deficits of about $100 billion for next year. Of the three, the Republican budget proposed the heaviest cuts in domestic spending and the smallest tax increases and defense spending cutbacks.
Since the House budget debate started last week, the race had been considered close, especially between the Republican and moderates' plans. But both parties were considerably concerned after the Medicare vote that, in the confusing situation, none of the plans might pass.
The Republicans' budget plan had been endorsed by President Reagan, whose original budget was dismissed earlier in the year because of sizable deficits, and Reagan had lobbied for the last two days on behalf of the GOP alternative by telephone from his California ranch.
In something of an understatement, deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes said after the Medicare vote that "the budget process is taking a sharp turn toward confusion," adding that the White House would work with GOP leaders "to see if there can be something achieved out of this confusion."
The cut in defense spending, to accommodate the extra money for Medicare, was "out of the acceptable range of the administration," he added.
The Medicare vote stunned leaders of both parties, who assumed the issue had been put to rest the previous night, and opened the doors for spending restorations ranging from veterans benefits to pay and pensions for federal workers.
Among the winners before the three plans were rejected, were federal workers and pensioners.
Voting 259 to 159, the House had approved a proposal by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to give military and civilian workers a 5 percent pay increase Oct. 1, although final numbers would have awaited a conference with the Senate, which wants pay frozen for the next year. All three House plans had provided a 4 percent pay increase.
Then, voting 327 to 94, the House had agreed to lift a proposed 4 percent cost-of-living increase for military and civilian government retirees in all three plans.