The Democratic-controlled House, turning aside a barrage of criticism by President Reagan, yesterday narrowly adopted a $1 trillion budget for fiscal 1988 that would raise taxes and repudiate the administration's spending priorities.
Following a debate that featured some of the harshest partisan rhetoric since the 100th Congress convened five months ago, the House approved on a 215-to-201 vote a budget compromise crafted last week by a House-Senate conference committee.
Only three Republicans voted for the budget, and 34 Democrats opposed it. Because of liberal and conservative Democratic defectors, the margin was considerably slimmer than when the House adopted its version of the budget in April on a 230-to-192 vote.
The spending plan calls for $19.3 billion in higher taxes and would freeze defense spending at close to current levels unless Reagan accepts the tax increase. It is expected to win final approval in the Senate today. The budget would reduce the federal deficit by about $37 billion, to $134 billion, well shy of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings target of $108 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October.
The budget resolution, which cannot be vetoed by the president, serves as a spending framework for later legislation that is necessary to appropriate funds for specific government programs and to raise new revenue. Reagan can veto the spending and taxing legislation.
The House vote came as Reagan continued his public campaign of attacking Congress' spending habits. "I will veto any legislation that raises the American people's taxes," Reagan pledged in an afternoon speech to the National Federation of Independent Business. "Anyone who tells you we can't cut the deficit without raising taxes and attacking defense is not telling you the truth."
But House Democrats angrily accused the president of misleading the public on the deficit in an attempt to shift the focus from his administration's misadventures in the Iran-contra affair.
"Mr. Reagan obviously is attempting to divert attention from his world problems by trying to stage a phony fight with Congress," charged House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.). "At a time when we need serious and constructive attention to budget deficits, the president subjects himself to ridicule by shouting old slogans and preposterous claims that sound more like a sideshow barker than a president."
"This president is the biggest deficit spender in our history," railed Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) in an angry floor speech in which he reminded the House that the national debt has more than doubled under Reagan.
"The president's antitax rhetoric is no less astounding than his antideficit speeches," Rostenkowski continued. "He has signed the three largest tax increases in our history . . . . I'm tired of this game of smoke and mirrors. I'm tired of his bashing the Congress on the deficit."
But taking their lead from Reagan, House Republicans who all but boycotted the budget process repeatedly hammered their Democratic colleagues on the tax issue.
"The House is obviously ruled by the dead hand of Walter Mondale," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), a reference to the Democrats' 1984 presidential nominee who lost 49 states after calling for higher taxes to trim the deficit.
Reagan's assault, which began last week with a nationwide television address and will culminate with a July 3 rally at the Jefferson Memorial, has appeared to embolden rather than cow the Democratic Congress.
Lawmakers who once feared the kind of public outcry the president could mobilize now say that Reagan is almost powerless to arouse public opinion as he once did.
Democrats across Capitol Hill report that when Reagan urged voters to protest the Democratic budget and tax increase during his television address, few of their constituents responded.
"The magic is gone," said Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said he got no calls or letters from his district in response to the president's speech. A similar appeal by Reagan in 1981 inspired 500 phone calls to Schumer's office.
Like the characters in "The Wizard of Oz," Schumer said, the public and Congress have discovered that Reagan is not as powerful as he once seemed.
"Toto has just pulled up the screen," said Schumer.