Members of the House Budget Committee rebelled yesterday against a compromise spending plan worked out by House and Senate leaders, dampening prospects that the Democratic-controlled Congress will soon reach a consensus on a fiscal 1988 budget.
Key liberal members of the House panel, in a closed-door meeting, objected to a level of defense spending $8 billion higher than was contained in the $1 trillion budget adopted by the full House in April.
Under the compromise worked out by House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), defense spending would have been set at about $289 billion next year, just $1 billion less than approved by the Senate and enough to keep pace with inflation.
Though the two chairmen commanded enough votes on the budget conference committee to pass the compromise, Gray was reluctant to risk defeat on the floor of the House because of his seriously divided committee. He and Chiles cancelled plans for a meeting of the budget conferees scheduled for today to formally ratify the tentative agreement. They will now resume a series of private meetings that have lasted almost a month.
Both sides said the room for compromise has narrowed significantly.
Chiles is under pressure from nearly a dozen conservative Democrats to remain close to the $290 billion defense figure approved last month by the Senate.
But members of the House panel also appear dug in. "It's not a Democratic priority," fumed Rep. Marty Russo (D-Ill.), one of three House conferees who told Gray they would not sign a conference report based on the compromise even though the Senate had agreed to modest increases in domestic spending. The plan also calls for $19.5 billion in new taxes, more than $1 billion higher than originally approved by both the House and Senate.
Russo and several of his colleagues said the compromise would lock Congress into higher defense spending in future years without the means to pay for it.