White House and congressional leaders announced yesterday they will begin talks on reducing the deficit Monday morning, then blamed one another for causing budget deficits and the subsequent turmoil in the financial markets.
President Reagan, at a Labor Department jobs conference, singled out Congress for the "uneasiness on Wall Street." Investors "see some very disturbing signs on Capitol Hill," Reagan said. "We see a Congress that is unable to get control of deficit spending," that "backed away from its Gramm-Rudman promises," he added.
House Democratic leaders responded by chastising Reagan for misstatements in assessing blame. "I hope we can call a truce to this harsh war of words and rhetoric," House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) said.
"It is not helpful in reaching a solution. It sends the wrong signal," Gray said. "It is not helpful to the marketplace and to solving the problem."
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said that Reagan made numerous "rather significant factual inaccuracies" during his news conference Thursday night, and warned that the negotiations cannot succeed "until all parties face the simple realities" of the nation's budget and financial crisis.
Reagan yesterday assailed trade bills approved by the House and Senate, saying that they "threaten a spiraling trade war" and would have a "devastating effect on employment."
"I'm asking every member of Congress who agrees that we should reject protectionist legislation, every member who agrees that tax increases are not the solution, to join with me in showing our support for America and her economic future," Reagan said.
"Congress has made no effort to seriously restrain domestic spending," Reagan added. "Just freezing spending at last year's levels would yield substantial deficit reduction."
Congressional leaders said the president's statements were at odds with his more conciliatory rhetoric Thursday night, in which he agreed to negotiate "as soon as possible" on ways to meet a $23 billion deficit-reduction target for fiscal 1988 set by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who praised Reagan's generally positive tone at the news conference, privately conveyed his displeasure with the president's Labor Department speech to White House officials, according to sources.
"I think now is the time to forget the finger pointing and to be nonpartisan and to be Americans in working together to cope with this difficult problem," Byrd said on the floor. ". . . I take the president at his word when he indicated that he is willing to sit down and consider all the options and not have any preconditions to such a meeting."
The meeting, set for 10 a.m. Monday at the White House, will be a precursor to the working sessions between top administration officials and House and Senate leaders. Byrd, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Wright and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) will meet with Reagan, White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr., Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and other administration officials.
Byrd announced yesterday that he, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) and J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), a member of the Budget panel and Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) be the Senate Democratic negotiators.
On the House side, Gray, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), Appropriations Committee Chairman Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.) and House Majority Leader Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) likely will lead the Democrats in negotiations.
The Republicans have not yet disclosed their negotiating team.
In taking a cue from Reagan, congressional leaders yesterday declined to specify the precise package they are seeking, although it likely will be a 50-50 split between tax increases and spending cuts.
Gray told reporters that he viewed the $23 billion deficit-reduction target as "a floor, not a ceiling" in discussing ways to reduce the deficit, but Bentsen said $23 billion is the maximum in reductions he would be seeking for 1988.
Both agreed that, in looking for likely sources of new revenue, congressional negotiators will pick and choose from among the tax packages approved by the Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee. Neither of those packages contains increases in corporate or individual income tax rates or other unpopular taxes, such as liquor, cigarette or gasoline taxes.
"I'd be surprised if we moved outside the taxes we have look at in both bills," he said.