The White House responded yesterday to a virtual congressional stampede toward a federal jobs program by disclosing that President Reagan has asked the Office of Management and Budget to look for ways to speed up military and civilian government construction.
The announcement followed meetings between Senate Republican leaders and key White House officials on a strategy for coping with congressional demands for an anti-recession program that were underscored yesterday by House Republicans as well as Democrats from both houses.
First, Senate and House Democrats, who split over job-creating initiatives last year, announced they would join hands to develop a $5 billion to $10 billion jobs plan by next month. Then, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) announced that House Republicans were setting up a task force to work out "comprehensive jobs legislation."
Under consideration by the administration in addition to construction and repair jobs, congressional sources said, are humanitarian aid for victims of the recession and a "trigger" that would continue the funding under certain economic conditions.
Amid the activity on job-creating programs, the president's new budget proposal for the 1984 fiscal year went through another day of battering and second-guessing on Capitol Hill with these results:
* The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the deficit will be $22 billion less than the administration is forecasting for fiscal 1984, which will begin Oct. 1. This could lessen pressure for the domestic spending cuts Reagan wants. CBO thinks that the economy will grow faster than the administration has projected, and that interest rates also will be lower.
* Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) declared that "there's no support" on the Finance Committee for the president's proposal for standby tax increases for 1986 through 1988, depending on the size of the deficit, and said he is working on an alternative tax plan Details on Page A4 .
* A Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Slade Gorton (Wash.), proposed a budget alternative that would, among other things, hold defense spending below Reagan's recommendations, spread this July's scheduled 10 percent tax cut over two years, impose a $5 a barrel oil import fee and delay the scheduled indexing of income tax rates to inflation by two years.
* Both Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger came under harsh attack with House Democrats accusing Stockman of trying to gloss over deep cuts in social welfare spending and Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) describing Weinberger as an "inflexible ideologue" who was "actually serving the interests of the Soviet Union."
* Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said, meanwhile, that he was "interested in examining" a defense spending increase only half as large as the one Reagan requested in his budget, meaning a 5 percent "real," or after-inflation, increase instead of the 10 percent the president is seeking.
Despite all this, Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), while predicting there would be changes in the domestic and defense sides of the budget, said he thought "large portions of the budget" would survive. "In the end, it will look a lot more like Ronald Reagan's budget than anyone else's," Baker said at a luncheon with reporters.
Baker also said he thought the president will be receptive to jobs-creating proposals. "The president's repeated use of 'make-work projects' sounds like a rejection, but the inference is that if the jobs are immediate and socially useful, he would consider them," Baker said.
As for himself, Baker said he thought House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) is "not far off" in suggesting an acceleration of already scheduled government work such as repairs to veterans hospitals.
Not long after, White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes, while denying that Reagan had backed off his opposition to public-works jobs creation, said the president "has authorized the staff to look into some items that are already in the budget such as military construction, GSA [General Services Administration] construction, Interior [Department] projects that could possibly be accelerated."
Speakes emphasized that Reagan has not approved speedup of construction work and stressed that, if approved, the accelerated work would not "require additional budget expenditures."
Asked if Reagan were responding to Republican pressures, Speakes said, "I wouldn't call it pressure." As for the Democrats, Speakes said: "I think what's happened is there was a reaction by the Democrats to our proposals before they saw our proposals . . . they did not realize that our own budget contained fairly substantial jobs initiatives."
These include extension of supplemental unemployment benefits, more money for job retraining and tax credits for hiring the unemployed, which Democrats have characterized as insufficient and many Republicans have described as only a good start toward a broader jobs program.
In outlining House Republicans' jobs effort, Michel said he told the White House that he didn't want "my troops cast in the role of nay-sayers to any Democratic initiatives that came along." He did not rule out cooperating with the House Democrats on a plan, saying, "Who knows? There might be some melding of ideas."
In his third day of testifying on the fiscal 1984 defense budget, Weinberger agreed to give the Senate Budget Committee a list of programs that might be affected by various levels of spending cuts but continued to insist that any substantial scaling-back of his proposal would harm the nation's security.
In addition to the harsh attack from Riegle, he got some tough words from the usually soft-spoken Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), ranking minority member of the committee, who vowed that Congress will supply restraint if the Pentagon doesn't.
"It is no overstatement to say the defense sector is very near a crisis of confidence," Chiles said, adding: "By refusing to bend even a little to the needs of economic recovery, by trying to market a defense increase cloaked as a defense cut, defense policy makers are walking the path back to 'Credibility Gap' . . . ."
Said Riegle: "By your truly fanatical insistence on defense increases . . . larger than needed, larger than we can afford, I believe that you are damaging our national security" and "actually serving the interests of the Soviet Union."
Weinberger said Riegle was "insulting and wrong."
Domenici's suggestion for cutting the defense increase in half was in line with an earlier suggestion from Sen. Baker, although some Republicans as well as many Democrats are suggesting even deeper cutbacks.
Asked about his views, Michel declined to be pinned down to a specific goal for defense savings but said he has warned Reagan repeatedly that, in order to get support for his defense proposals, he's "got to lay out, carefully and specifically, what our global strategy is." For the kind of defense buildup Reagan wants, "you've got to lay the groundwork better, unfortunately, than [the] administration has done," Michel said.