House Republicans have indicated in response to a survey that they would vote to freeze both defense spending and Social Security benefits as part of a comprehensive budget freeze for next year.
The results, reflecting the views of about two-thirds of House Republicans, could strengthen the hand of Senate Republicans as they try to negotiate a budget agreement with the White House.
Sharp cuts in the administration's military buildup and elimination of next year's cost-of-living increases for Social Security are opposed by President Reagan but are key elements of a deficit-reduction plan that the Senate Budget Committee approved this month.
Senate negotiators met yesterday with Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman and plan another session today with White House officials in what appeared to be an escalation of efforts to reach agreement on deficit reductions -- or at least to see whether agreement is possible.
Negotiators said progress was being made, but declined to discuss details.
Senate Republican leaders are pushing for a compromise with the White House but have indicated that they may move on their own, probably with a modified version of the Budget Committee plan, if an agreement appears impossible.
Results of the House GOP leadership's budget survey, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, showed a consensus for an across-the-board freeze with additional domestic program cuts, generally in line with those proposed by the Senate budget panel.
More favored this approach than Reagan's proposal for a freeze in overall spending with differing cuts in specific programs.
Of all domestic spending cuts listed as options, only Reagan's proposal for a 5 percent pay cut for federal workers failed to gain support from a majority of House Republicans. It was opposed by 53 percent. The proposal also was rejected by the Senate Budget Committee, which instead proposed to freeze federal workers' pay.
A summary of the results indicated that 62 percent of House Republicans favored a freeze on Social Security benefits as part of a comprehensive freeze, although only 34 percent supported eliminating Social Security cost-of-living increases without freezing other programs. In answer to a separate question, 46 percent said they would support a Social Security freeze only if Democratic leaders went along.
Nearly 3 in 4 House Republicans, or 74 percent of those responding, said they favored a freeze in defense spending authority as part of a comprehensive budget freeze. The figure dropped to 61 percent for anything approaching a defense freeze without comparable domestic cuts.
A freeze would go further than what the Senate Budget Committee proposed for defense. It recommended that defense spending be allowed to grow only to keep pace with inflation next year.
Leading the list of possible defense spending cuts was the closing of unneeded military bases, followed by revision of the military retirement system, which has been strongly advocated by Stockman but resisted elsewhere in the administration. Cutting weapons systems and readiness accounts were among the last choices.
The Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday began its markup of the Pentagon budget, with subcommittees working on three proposals, including one that would provide no growth and require a $19 billion cut in the president's fiscal 1986 request.
One senior member said the committee probably will approve an alternative that would allow defense spending to grow 3 percent above inflation, but would still cut $13 billion. The third proposal would permit a 4 percent increase.
But the member, a Republican, said yesterday, "I think we will end up with zero growth on the floor."
In another development, Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, outlined a budget alternative that would contain a roughly even mix of domestic spending cuts, cutbacks in defense spending and tax increases.
Chiles indicated that he is seeking Democratic responses to the approach, which emphasizes "positive" steps aimed at economic growth, such as greater federal investment in research.
Chiles also said he thinks that Democrats should take more initiative on budget issues. He suggested that they challenge Republicans to vote on their "growth" proposals, just as Republicans challenged Democrats during the late 1970s on issues such as tax cuts.