President Reagan yesterday signaled agreement with three-fourths of a Democratic-drafted jobs and recession relief proposal but called on Congress to modify the rest of it.
"We have come a long way toward bipartisan agreement," Reagan claimed in describing a proposal drafted by Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Committee as "largely consistent . . . in both size and approach" with a framework for anti-recession legislation worked out earlier by House leaders and White House aides.
Reagan referred to the package as a $4.4 billion plan, but additions approved by Democratic leaders late Wednesday brought the total to $4.6 billion, and further add-ons are expected to be proposed when the Appropriations Committee considers the legislation today.
The president and members of both parties in Congress have been jockeying for position on the jobs-and-relief issue since last month.
Reagan's new remarks were interpreted on Capitol Hill as a simultaneous call for both continued cooperation and restraint in adding to his initial offer of $4.3 billion for jobs and humanitarian aid for victims of the recession, beyond the programs in the budget proposal he sent to Congress Jan. 31.
In a written statement after a morning meeting between House Democratic whip Thomas S. Foley (Wash.) and White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, Reagan said:
"Seventy-five percent of the House committee chairmen's package consists of funding for necessary federal construction, repair and renovation work and appropriate humanitarian aid.
"However, some elements of the package do not constitute acceleration of already budgeted items, and thus would unnecessarily increase the deficit.
"These, and other elements of the package that are not fully consistent with the bipartisan framework, could and should be better targeted on higher priority, job-related federal expenditures."
More specifically, one administration source said, Reagan objects to inclusion of about $500 million for economic development, small business and "tree-planting" money that the president refused to include in his budget, $450 million in public works money that could not be spent quickly enough, and $242 million for social welfare programs that do not create jobs.
On the other hand, one Democratic source said that as much as $1.5 billion of Reagan's earlier proposal amounted to "funny money," including funds that Congress would have required to be spent anyway.
Reagan and House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) also put different spins on the impetus for the jobs legislation. The president began his statement by outlining his $4.3 billion offer and said, "I was pleased that Speaker O'Neill found this proposal to be an acceptable framework for bipartisan cooperation." But at a press conference earlier in the day, O'Neill said: "He Reagan is buying our alternative."
Despite Reagan's objections to some proposals in the Democratic bill, an administration source said he would not necessarily object if the money is spent for other job-creating projects, such as port development, highway and airport projects that Reagan recommended and the Democrats deleted. The goal remains a bill of about $4.3 billion, the source said.
In their version of the legislation, the Democrats reshuffled Reagan's spending proposals to a considerable degree, including transferring money from public works projects to social welfare programs. But the White House also objected to some public works spending that the Democrats added, including waterway projects and rural water and sewer grants. They objected also to increased spending for low-income home weatherization on grounds that Congress has already provided more than can be spent.
O'Neill said he expects the House to complete the jobs bill and send it to the Senate by Wednesday. A second package of longer-term aid will be prepared by mid-April, he added.
Meanwhile, a House Ways and Means subcommittee, as expected, overrode Reagan's objections and approved up to 10 additional weeks of unemployment benefits in states hit hardest by the recession, bringing the maximum aid duration to 65 weeks in some states. Reagan had proposed an extension of supplemental jobless benefits but without the 10-week extension.