The executive committee of the National Governors' Association yesterday urged Congress and the White House to toughen their efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit, including a freeze on defense spending and on cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients.
The bipartisan committee also urged reforms in major middle-income entitlement programs such as Medicare, farm price supports and retirement programs, and warned that even with such actions, "it may be necessary to increase revenues to reduce the structural deficit."
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) repeatedly stressed at the governors' annual winter conference here that such cuts could be painful and politically unpopular. Revenue increases are out of the question, the three said.
But governors from both parties, some smarting from what they see as federal attempts to balance the federal budget by wiping out what they consider modest but hard-earned state budget surpluses, offered little sympathy.
Gov. George Deukmejian (R) of California said he was unhappy with "a lot of handwringing" by members of Congress. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) of Massachusetts offered only mocking pity, noting that laws in 49 of the 50 states require balanced budgets at the beginning and end of each fiscal year.
"This is tough compared to what some of you had to go through in the last two or three years?" Dukakis asked his fellow governors. " They have four years to do it. We had to do it in one year. Most of us do it in four or five months."
Dukakis ridiculed the idea that federal deficit reduction planning is like an airplane flight with the promise -- or hope -- of a smooth landing three or four years out.
"We don't have a 'glide path' at the state level. A glide path? Try to deliver a state of the state address with a glide path," he said to the chuckles of his colleagues.
Dukakis said most governors had imposed freezes, increased tax collections and even raised taxes to steer their states through recession and reductions in federal aid. "And these guys tell us it's painful and excruciating and, 'Oh, it's so difficult . . . . ' It takes guts and it takes will."
Yesterday's vote set the stage for a showdown Tuesday when the full association votes on the resolution. It also hinted at what might be on some governor's minds during a scheduled meeting today with President Reagan at the White House.
In a bipartisan gesture sought by some Republican governors, outnumbered 2 to 1 in the association by Democrats, the executive committee also urged adoption of two fiscal measures long supported by Reagan -- a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and line-item veto authority for the president.
Kansas Gov. John Carlin (D), chairman of the association, said agricultural problems, Medicaid and the state budget surpluses would be the major items on the agenda for today's White House meeting. "I doubt if there will be any discussion on the defense budget," he said.
Early at yesterday's session, several governors lashed out at the administration for failure to respond more generously to the triple crises of high interest rates and low prices and lagging exports that they said are crippling the agricultural economy and jeopardizing an estimated one-third of the nation's farmers.
"There's an irony in the fact that the nation that can put a man on the moon apparently can't keep a family down on the farm," said Gov. Ted Schwinden (D) of Montana.
But the major focus of the day was the proposed policy on the federal deficit.
The governors urged a freeze that "does not burden already hard-pressed lower-income Americans" but at the same time "shares the burden among national defense and domestic spending." Their plan would hold 1986 appropriations for non-defense discretionary spending to 1985 levels and increase 1987-1990 appropriations by one-half the rate of inflation. Defense spending would be permitted to exceed the 1985 level only by the rate of inflation in 1986 and by 1 percent to 3 percent in the later years.
Several programs aimed primarily at the poor would not be frozen. They include Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, Medicaid, Supplementary Security Income for the blind, aged and disabled and child nutrition and child welfare programs.
"These programs have already been reduced substantially over the last four years and have already contributed their share of budget reductions," the governors' position paper read. A one-year freeze would be imposed on all cost-of-living adjustments in other entitlement programs, however.
Govs. Richard D. Lamm (D) of Colorado and Robert Graham (D) of Florida were the only two to oppose inclusion of Social Security adjustments.
There was some feuding among the governors over how specific the fiscal recommendations should be. Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh (R) of Pennsylvania opposed language so specific that it even estimated projected savings of each proposed measure. Gov. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee echoed that concern.
"If I wanted to make up the federal budget, I would run for the Senate," Alexander told reporters at a news conference.
Wisconsin Gov. Anthony S. Earl (D) complained, however, that the governors' position would be weakened by generalizations. "If we send up some polite remonstrance to them to balance the budget," Earl said, "we're no better off than the Rotary Club of Salinas, Kan."
The governors were not specific on revenue increases. "The revenue increase must be one that does not raise average or marginal tax rates, shares the burden fairly and can be enacted quickly," they said.