President Reagan is planning to urge Congress to enact changes in the congressional budget process that could produce a deal this year on spending priorities and thus avoid the automatic budget cuts that could be triggered under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, officials said yesterday.
The budget-process changes are to be one feature of the Jan. 28 State of the Union speech in which Reagan is planning to demand that Congress not approve any tax increase this year, officials said.
One budget proposal Reagan is expected to offer in the address is that Congress change the form of its yearly budget resolution to one requiring a presidential signature.
Currently, Congress sets overall fiscal priorities with a concurrent resolution. The president works to have that resolution reflect his budget priorities, but the document needs no presidential concurrence to take effect. And Congress has increasingly ignored Reagan's budget priorities. The idea is to change the budget document to a joint resolution, which requires the president's signature and thus would give him a stronger hand in its composition.
Including a presidential signature might turn the budget resolution into a political and legal "compact" between Reagan and Congress, and perhaps avert the automatic cuts that would come in the absence of such an agreement, officials said. The proposal has been advocated internally by Office of Management and Budget Director James C. Miller III. However, some administration officials note that Reagan and Congress start the year far from common ground on the key issues of defense spending and taxes.
Although Reagan backed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, he expressed opposition this week to a central feature that provides for automatic spending cuts, evenly split between defense and domestic spending, if Congress and the president fail to meet deficit targets.
This "sequestering" could slice deeply into Reagan's defense buildup next fiscal year, and Reagan said this week that he hopes it will not take effect.
The White House appears to be looking for ways to defend Reagan's spending priorities while avoiding a year-long stalemate that could trigger the automatic cuts in October, just before the mid-term congressional elections in which Republican control of the Senate is at stake.
Officials said Reagan has decided to deliver a shorter, "thematic" message to Congress this year that will focus on the fiscal battles ahead. He will compare the federal budget to the spending of an average American family in demanding that Congress not raise taxes this year, they added.
White House strategists acknowledge that sentiment is growing on Capitol Hill for some kind of tax increase to help meet the deficit target of $144 billion set by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill next year. But they said Reagan is adamantly against a tax increase, including the business transfer tax and an oil import fee that have been subject of increasing speculation.
The president "blew a gasket" when he read a newspaper report this week quoting aides who said he might be forced to accept a tax increase this year, officials said.
Reagan intends to use the State of the Union message to advertise his plan to reach the $144 billion target through deep cuts in domestic spending, officials said, and then insist that Congress do the same rather than cut defense spending or raise taxes.
Reagan again will ask for two budget revisions he has sought unsuccessfully in the past: the line-item veto and the balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, officials said. He will add the budget-resolution change.
White House officials acknowledge that Congress is not likely to react positively to Reagan dictating its prerogatives.
Officials said they decided to scale back the State of the Union address this year by eliminating the "laundary list" of specific proposals. Those will come in a separate message.