The House Democratic leadership has decided to make no attempt to avoid the $11.7 billion in automatic spending cuts due to be imposed March 1 under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget law, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said yesterday.
Chances for approval of an alternative package of deficit reductions appear slim in the Senate as well. "I think we are deciding that [issue] here by non-action," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.). "I don't think anyone is interested in doing anything."
However, Sens. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.) and Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) plan to introduce a resolution to replace the mandated automatic cuts for domestic programs with a package of "budget reconciliation" spending cuts that Congress failed to adopt late last year.
Two Democratic senators, J. Bennett Johnston (La.) and Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), are advancing a similar proposal.
Following a House leadership meeting, O'Neill said that "the leadership and the great majority of members feel there will be no action and that sequestration the technical term for the across-the-board budget cuts will go into effect."
Under the law, the first round of automatic cuts, limited this year to $11.7 billion, will be imposed unless Congress enacts and President Reagan signs an alternative deficit-reduction measure.
O'Neill's statement came as no surprise. There has been little enthusiasm in Congress or the administration for trying to avoid the first round of cuts, which is not expected to cause widespread problems in government agencies.
There is much greater concern about avoiding automatic cuts for fiscal 1987, which begins Oct. 1, when the new law calls for a federal deficit of $144 billion and could require $40 billion or more in new cuts.
A House Democratic aide said the consensus in the leadership was that there is not enough time to enact an alternative to the $11.7 billion in cuts in March and that instead Congress "should concentrate on doing what it can to void the 1987 cuts."
O'Neill also said the House intends to move rapidly early in this session on another deficit-reduction measure that was stalled by a House-Senate dispute at the end of last year. He said that next week the House will appoint members to a new conference committee to meet with their Senate counterparts on the budget reconciliation legislation.
"We want to get reconciliation this year," O'Neill said. "If we don't, it [the deficit] will grow and make Gramm-Rudman tougher."
Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) and Domenici, have indicated that they want to try again for a reconciliation agreement and have been awaiting a signal from the House.
The reconciliation bill, which contains a number of spending cuts and revenue increases, would reduce the deficit by about $75 billion over the next three years. It is this measure that the three Republican senators are seeking to substitute for domestic spending cuts required this year under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.
Unless the reconciliation cuts are substituted for the automatic trims, the reconciliation savings would be in addition to them. Achieving the additional program changes and savings would move the deficit closer to the $144 billion target for fiscal 1987.
The dispute that stalled the measure last year centered on funding for the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup program. Several lawmakers have said the Superfund provisions will probably be removed.