Senate Republican leaders lashed back at White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan yesterday for ridiculing the budget stalemate in Congress and said they are working on a compromise to offer the House next week.
In a resumption of hostilities between the White House and Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) suggested they could do better in their fight with the House over a fiscal 1986 budget if Regan stayed out of it.
"I think he better come to the Hill and get acquainted with some of the senators who made the hard choices . . . . We want to work with the president. We can't do it without Ronald Reagan; we could probably do it without Don Regan," Dole said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
In an interview on Cable News Network, Domenici agreed that the Senate needs President Reagan's help but added, "If we are going to get that help with speeches like Don Regan gave a couple of days ago, then we better just get on with trying to do something ourselves."
Regan triggered the latest display of senatorial pique with a podium-pounding speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday in which he denounced the House-Senate budget impasse as "ridiculous" and said collapse of the negotiations would be "disgraceful."
He did not differentiate between the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-run Senate, reviving resentments that spread through Senate GOP ranks after Reagan acceded to House demands for abandonment of the Senate's proposal to freeze Social Security benefits for a year to help cut deficits.
In their comments yesterday, Dole and Domenici were reflecting complaints at a closed-door caucus of Senate Republicans Thursday afternoon in which Regan came in for sharp criticism, both for handling of the Social Security decision and for his Chamber of Commerce remarks.
Domenici also criticized the budget "framework" agreement that included abandonment of the Social Security freeze, saying it was "calculated not to get you a very good budget."
But he said he feels a responsibility to work out a budget, even if it is a "budget that's not too good," adding: "Yeah, we're going to try. We don't have any firm plan yet, but we'll try."
Dole said he expects the Senate will make what he described as a "legitimate counteroffer" next week and implied that the Senate may be willing to compromise more than it wants to in order to get results. "I don't think we can let passion overtake our responsibilities," he said.
But neither Dole nor Domenici appeared very optimistic about chances for agreement on a congressional budget resolution.
"I'd say there is still a slight chance," Domenici said. Dole put the odds at less than 50-50 on Thursday evening.
The budget conference committee broke up Wednesday after the Senate rejected a House proposal to move toward the Senate's position on defense and domestic spending, saying it fell short of the White House agreement. No date for resumption of the talks was set.
Spokesman Larry Speakes said yesterday the White House still sees an opportunity for agreement and made a point of differentiating between the House and Senate.