After eight days of negotiations between senior administration officials and congressional leaders, the budget yesterday remained a hostage to conflicting agendas.
Despite a flurry of meetings in the Capitol and a growing feeling of urgency, the high-level talks that were convened to find a budget package that will drive down the federal deficit and calm turbulent financial markets made little apparent progress.
"Somehow we're just bogged down," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee after he and other GOP negotiators had briefed Republican leaders in the Senate. "I'm discouraged, but we know we have to do something and I think we will."
"We didn't really go anywhere," added a Democrat familiar with the closed-door sessions yesterday. "There's no progress, no working document, no guiding plan."
House Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), however, said that "there was some small progress made" on agreeing to the broad outlines of a spending reduction element, but conceded that "we are still a long way from wrapping a package."
The dynamics of yesterday's talks apparently remained little changed from the fundamental equation that has characterized the discussions from the outset on Oct. 27: Reagan administration negotiators are demanding lower taxes, higher military spending and deeper domestic spending cuts than many Democrats are willing to accept.
If the White House and Congress do not reach agreement by Nov. 20, the balanced-budget law will require $23 billion in across-the-board spending cuts -- equally apportioned between domestic and defense spending, although not all programs would be reduced.
Despite widespread sentiment that the deficit talks are moving too slowly, a call by Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) for another meeting with President Reagan to spur progress was greeted tepidly by other lawmakers and by the administration.
"The president is in it," said Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, adding that Reagan "continues to spend vast amounts of time" conferring with his negotiators and monitoring the talks.
A two-year deficit reduction plan introduced on Tuesday by the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees appeared to be dead. It largely failed to direct the negotiations into a more fruitful phase.
Yesterday also saw a flare-up of the kind of partisan rhetoric that all sides have repeatedly sworn to leave behind in the wake of the stock market plunge.
Speaking to reporters during a picture-taking session in the Oval Office, Reagan returned to his pre-summit form by blaming Democrats in Congress for "having created all these deficits."
And House Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) accused Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and other Democrats of being "totally bogus" in characterizing the administration's bargaining position as inflexible. Lott said Democrats were secretly hoping the talks would collapse and trigger the $23 billion automatic spending cut.
Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) called on fellow Democrats to craft their own deficit reduction plan of at least $35 billion without presidential participation if the lack of progress "continues much longer."
Other lawmakers took a longer view, however, saying the discussions were nearing an inevitable low point that would be followed by a breakthrough as a Nov. 20 deadline came closer.
"I think we'll get an agreement," Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) said. "It may be the 19th of November, but we'll get it."