Aides to powerful House committee chairmen whose turf has been trampled by the congressional budget process have begun meeting on proposals to regain the lost ground.
Some of the proposals that have come up in at least two discussions over the past week would seriously affect the enforcement provisions in the 8-year-old budget law.
Aides interviewed yesterday said the meetings, which they described as inconclusive so far, had been aimed at finding ideas that would "bring some rationality to a process that has run amok," as one put it.
What they want most, they said, is a more orderly budget calendar that would allow adequate time for considering regular authorizing and appropriations bills.
But they are also considering more controversial proposals that Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), the House Budget Committee's leading expert on enforcement procedures, said would virtually gut the budget control process. They would make any budget resolution meaningless, he said.
One tentative draft of alternatives that was to be considered at a further meeting would severely restrict use of the so-called budget reconciliation process, under which Congress orders its committees to cut spending to come within budget targets. This is the process that President Reagan has exploited over the last two years in forcing reluctant congressional committees to approve his spending cuts.
Under these alternatives, Congress would no longer be able to order its committees to make reconciliation cuts early in a fiscal year, as it has done at Reagan's behest. Only programs that Congress has enacted or is considering in a particular session could be subjected to reconciliation orders, meaning that existing programs like Social Security or Medicaid would be immune.
Only one-year cuts could be imposed, ruling out the multiyear cuts that have been approved over the last two years. And the power to initiate the reconciliation process would be transfered from the Budget Committee to the Rules Committee, which traditionally works more closely with the House Democratic leadership.
In addition, Congress would go back to adopting spending and revenue targets in the spring and ceilings in the fall, a process it abandoned this year when it voted to turn the spring targets into binding ceilings by Oct. 1 if a revised budget had not been approved in the meantime. Moreover, the ceilings no longer would be such that they could force changes in particular programs.
But such specific proposals, which participants said may never go farther than conversations between them and their committee chairmen, may be less important than the general climate of frustration that produced them.
"There's a general feeling that the process has to be expedited, squeezed up, compacted," said Donald M. Baker, chief clerk for the House Education and Labor Committee, who organized the sessions in conjunction with top staff members from most other major committees in the House, including the appropriations as well as authorizing committees. "The budget process occupies us just about all year long. We're not getting any other work done."
This frustration, which is widespread among authorizing and appropriating committees that have found their traditional prerogatives usurped by what they regard as upstart budget committees, is expected to produce some changes in budget procedures next year. Changes as sweeping as some of those currently under discussion by the committee aides are considered doubtful.
But even Panetta said scheduling changes to permit more time for regular committees to consider legislation and appropriations, such as the aides' idea of setting spending targets in March instead of May, was an idea with merit.
According to the participants, the sessions evolved out of a desire on the part of Baker and others to pull together ideas for their chairmen, who have been asked to testify later this month before a Rules Committee task force that is considering possible Budget Act revisions. In most cases, the ideas have probably not yet even been transmitted to the committee chairmen, Baker said.
Asked if critics might accuse the group of trying to gut the budget process, Baker said, "I suppose that could be said of any change . . . , but I'm not sure it would turn out that way." He said the outcome probably hinges more on political climate than procedures in any case.
Another participant said, "This may look like a palace revolt, but it isn't -- unfortunately."