Congress yesterday edged toward a compromise on balanced-budget legislation as House negotiators outlined a series of possible accords that were welcomed by senators as a "framework" for nailing down a final agreement.
While most details were still to be worked out, the House proposals appeared to signal a significant breakthrough following a week of intense, closed-door bargaining by key negotiators for both sides.
Some of the principal players said a tentative agreement on most contested issues is possible by week's end, with a formal conference agreement to come after Congress returns Dec. 2 from its Thanksgiving recess.
At issue are conflicting House and Senate versions of legislation that would force a balanced budget by fiscal 1991 by requiring across-the-board spending cuts in most programs if specific deficit targets for each year are not met.
Among the House suggestions was a 50-50 split between defense and domestic spending cutbacks so long as some programs for the poor are exempted from reductions, according to House sources. The House wants to exempt nine programs, while the Senate wants to include them in any cutbacks.
Another proposal would set next year's deficit target at $172 billion, halfway between targets set earlier by the House and Senate. But negotiators were also discussing a specific range of maximum and minimum amounts for spending cuts that might be ordered, making that target flexible.
A compromise also appeared to be shaping up over sharing White House and congressional responsibility in determining the extent of spending cutbacks needed to reach deficit targets and what to do if the courts invalidate any arrangment for sharing responsibility. If the arrangement is ruled unconstitutional, Congress would make the cuts, subject to presidential veto.
The proposals were outlined yesterday by House Majority Whip Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), the Democratic caucus chairman, in a meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.). Domenici said afterward that the proposals appear to "show a very significant movement in a direction that could lead to a bill."
Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) called the balanced-budget plan a " 'Look, Ma, no hands' approach to government" that was "causing everyone [to have] second thoughts."
But he said the political momentum behind the drive to cut deficits remains so strong that some version of the measure is almost certain to pass.
Whether President Reagan would sign it is in doubt, however, Gray said. In addition to the administration's objections to probable defense-spending cuts, the likely congressional compromise will not give "nearly as much power to the president" as would the Senate version he originally endorsed, Gray said.
Republicans in both houses appear to be operating on their own, Gray said. "Why not take control of deficit-reduction and stick it to the president and say, 'Sign it or if you don't sign it, the onus is on you'," he added.
Gray said Senate Republicans want to ram through the compromise without delay, or Reagan is likely to use the summit as leverage to force concessions on defense.