President Reagan's budget director yesterday described as "veto bait" an omnibus appropriations bill that the House Democratic leadership is eyeing as a vehicle for any compromise on aid to the rebels in Nicaragua.
The measure, approved Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee for action by the full House next month, would revoke the president's power to defer appropriations as well as overturn $4.6 billion in deferrals made by the administration for this year.
The bill, called an "urgent supplemental," also includes roughly $1 billion in new spending for projects opposed or not deemed urgent by the administration, and it would deduct costs of the administration's embassy security program from existing military and foreign aid accounts, a move opposed by the White House.
"All the cats and dogs make this bill totally unacceptable . . . . This is so loaded down it is veto bait," Office of Management and Budget Director James C. Miller III said in an interview.
Asked about the aid program for Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries, or contras, being attached to the bill, Miller said, "In my mind it would be veto bait even with contra money on it." He said he would continue to recommend a veto even if the contra funding is included.
The language to repeal the president's power to defer spending authority represents an escalation of the long-simmering dispute over Reagan's heavy use of deferrals to halt spending that he opposes.
Earlier this year, several Democratic members of Congress joined city officials and local housing and development groups in filing suit to nullify the deferral authority, granted as part of a compromise in the 1974 budget-control act. The plaintiffs contended that a subsequent Supreme Court decision, which invalided a one-chamber veto to overturn deferrals, undermined the legitimacy of the deferral authority.
Miller agreed that the court decision gives the president what is tantamount to line-item veto authority, which Congress has declined to grant him in legislation or a constitutional amendment.
Concerning the fiscal 1987 budget approved last week by the GOP-controlled Senate Budget Committee, Miller reiterated that the administration does not intend to negotiate a joint White House-Senate budget, as it has in the past.
He said the administration wants to see the budget modified in the Senate but without official backing from the White House. He said he expects the Senate to pass a budget by mid-April, but not one "sufficiently to our liking that it will be a joint administration-Senate budget."
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) reluctantly agreed to a vote today on a proposed constitutional amendment to force balanced budgets, although backers of the proposal were reported to be three or four votes short of passage.
"I'd just as soon wait till after Easter," Dole said. "I think we're short." The Senate passed the amendment in 1982, only to see it die in the House. It considered the proposal again earlier this month and put off action until today after vote counts showed it would lose. Several Senate supporters of the measure appealed to Reagan yesterday to make phone calls on the measure's behalf.