Fired-up Democrats yesterday accused President Reagan of distorting the truth in blaming Congress for deficits, and warned that his refusal to compromise could scuttle chances for a fiscal 1984 budget.
"He's the biggest alibi artist ever to serve in the White House," said House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.), adding that Reagan would blame Millard Fillmore for the country's soaring budget deficits if he could find a way to do so.
The Democratic counterattack, in response to a speech Monday in which Reagan called on Congress to cut "irresponsible spending" instead of raising taxes, came as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) vowed to seek a bipartisan budget even if Reagan won't support it.
Domenici said he intended to meet with Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, in hopes of drafting a bipartisan compromise for presentation to the panel today.
Domenici indicated that the compromise will probably follow the outlines of an earlier proposal, supported by Republican moderates and many Democrats, that proposed more taxes and domestic spending, and less for defense, than Reagan wants.
Domenici said he was "more than willing" to try to put together a bipartisan budget "even if the president says he won't support it."
But talks between Domenici and Chiles later in the day were reported to be inconclusive.
And some Democrats, bristling at Reagan's attack, warned that the president was jeopardizing the chances of bipartisanship on the budget.
"I'm not in a very bipartisan mood this morning . . . , especially after reading the president's speech," said Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), who after a caucus of Democrats later in the day added that "there's not much inclination toward bipartisanship" among Democrats as a whole. "It's the Republicans who ought to do the compromising," he added.
"I'd say the resentment quotient is very high right now," said Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).
Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), after a meeting Reagan had with congressional leaders, said that the possibility of an irreconcilable impasse over the budget is "still real."
Bowing in two directions at once, Baker said he supports both the committee's efforts to come up with a compromise and Reagan's refusal to compromise on his program of tax cuts, military spending increases and domestic spending cuts.
"I think the president has a good, sound, solid fiscal program. I support it," Baker said.
According to participants at the meeting, Reagan again indicated that he will not be upset if Congress fails to produce a budget. And Baker said that he would support presidential vetoes of individual tax and spending bills if that is the only way to impose fiscal discipline.
At the Senate Budget Committee meeting, Chiles said that Reagan's claim that Congress has failed to live by his budgets is "patently not true," and Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) said that "either the president is misinformed or he's deliberately misleading the American people" in claiming that Congress has been laggard in cutting spending.
Congress has cut $387 billion through 1988, not including cuts proposed in this year's budget, Metzenbaum said.
In both the House and Senate, Democrats said that Reagan's tax cuts and military buildup, coupled with the recession, were more responsible for big deficits than the domestic spending programs that Reagan blames.
Unemployment stemming from the "Reagan recession" caused $122 billion of the $195 billion deficit projected for next year, according to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
Reagan "has had his way" on economic policy, Wright said. "He can't escape responsibility" for the deficits.
"It's the magic of voodoo economics at its best," said Deputy House Majority Whip William V. (Bill) Alexander Jr. (D-Ark.), using the term applied by Vice President Bush to Reagan's economic policies before Bush lost the GOP presidential nomination to Reagan in 1980.
"Even Ronald Reagan, the head witch doctor, cannot make the deficits go away," Alexander said.