Congress yesterday missed its first important deadline under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget-control law without immediate prospects for an accord with the White House to avoid sweeping cuts in most federal programs just before the November elections.
The law, passed last year to force a balanced budget by fiscal 1991, set April 15 as the deadline for final congressional action on a budget resolution setting spending and revenue targets for fiscal 1987.
But neither house has brought a budget to the floor. House Democrats are waiting for Senate Republicans, and Senate Republicans are waiting for the White House.
Despite earlier talk of a "go-it-alone" move by Congress if the White House continues to balk at negotiations, Republican leaders appeared reluctant to break completely with President Reagan over the budget, at least for the time being.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) moved to open talks with White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan in pursuit of possible points of agreement and indicated that enough progress was made to keep the talks going.
"There is at least an agreement to talk. . . to get together on the same field," said an aide to Dole after Regan, Dole and Office of Management and Budget Director James C. Miller III met Monday. They plan to meet again with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).
There was no indication where the talks might lead, however.
The White House has indicated it does not want to negotiate an agreement with Congress. It has also rejected a bipartisan budget proposed by Domenici's panel, complaining that it would raise taxes while allocating too much for domestic programs and too little for defense. Domenici is pushing for Senate action on the proposal, but Dole is dragging his heels, contending that the plan lacks sufficient Republican support.
The Democratic-controlled House is even farther behind, content for the moment to let the GOP-run Senate bear the consequences of either action or inaction. Democratic members of the House Budget Committee have prepared several options, including one that would meet the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit target without raising taxes. But members indicated that it has little, if any, chance of winning House approval. "It would cause grievous pain," said one committee member. "It makes a tax increase look good by comparison," said another.
The April 15 deadline was set to give Congress time to prepare deficit-reducing alternatives to the automatic cutbacks that will be required if the deficit for next year appears likely to exceed $144 billion. Under current projections, a cut of about $40 billion would be required.