Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger is recommending that President Reagan send Congress a new list of federal programs that could be cut rather than allow reductions to be forced on him by antideficit legislation, government officials said yesterday.
The list of cuts, called rescissions, would be designed to stave off major reductions in the Defense Department budget in coming years while lowering the deficit and protecting the president's right to decide national priorities, officials said.
Weinberger's suggestion to use rescissions to regain the initiative in the deficit battle has been tabled at the White House, not refined or adopted, officials said.
These sources added that the likelihood that some version of the antideficit legislation known as Gramm-Rudman-Hollings has given rescissions fresh appeal. The bill is named after sponsoring Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) and Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.).
The Senate-passed version of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, which Reagan has endorsed and Weinberger publicly opposed Wednesday, would force the president to make across-the-board reductions in defense and nondefense spending if the federal deficit exceeds limits allowed under the pending legislation.
"I'm very strongly opposed to across-the-board approaches," Weinberger told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He indicated that he would recommend that Reagan veto the Senate-passed measure, despite the president's previous endorsement.
Gramm said yesterday that he has asked the Pentagon and other government agencies to provide him with "economic impact statements" on what effect various antideficit bills would have on their programs. He said defense programs would be vulnerable "under any legislation I support."
Congressional sources said Weinberger might be able to put Gramm-Rudman-Hollings backers on the defensive if he produces timely and balanced rescissions.
The president could argue, he said, that he was elected to establish national priorities and was submitting a list of reductions that would do the least harm to government programs across the board.
Without such a presidential initiative, the antideficit legislation would require Reagan to make specified percentage reductions throughout the government rather than pick and choose among defense and domestic accounts.
If the White House list of rescissions did not touch defense, it would not be taken seriously by Congress, according to congressional specialists working on rival antideficit measures.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said yesterday that progress is being made by the House-Senate conference now attempting to compromise on an antideficit measure. Whatever legislation emerges, he said, will result in defense budget cuts.
If Reagan submits a budget next year that severely cuts domestic programs to fund a real growth of 3 percent in defense, Aspin said, Congress will wipe out the 3 percent "within 30 seconds."
"The president will be the bad guy" for cutting nondefense programs, and Congress "will then be the good guy" for cutting them "less drastically," Aspin said.