Congress is on vacation, but the Kemper Open offered a chance for a round of golf with Tom Kite and the Soviet Embassy invited him to coffee this morning and dinner tonight with Mikhail Gorbachev. So House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) stayed in town. And yesterday at a press breakfast, he shared his thoughts on a variety of topics, including life in the House with Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) as speaker and Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as minority whip.

Here are some of Michel's unusually candid observations:

On Gingrich, the firebrand conservative finishing up his first year as Michel's deputy:

"Newt is learning . . . He is learning all the time. You can't take away the gift he has for being a very articulate spokesman for his point of view. He's never averse to expressing himself -- and maybe sometimes giving the president some unsolicited advice. But that's his nature and his prerogative. You know, I've had to put up with all kinds in my 34 years {in Congress}."

On Foley:

"He's a much better speaker to get along with than his predecessor {Jim Wright} in my terms. It's certainly a more pleasurable playing field . . . We confide in each other. His word is as good as gold as far as I'm concerned. We're going to have our differences, but . . . we're more inclined to try to solve them between the two of us with nobody else around. Once you've got the trust . . . that you can confide in each other, it's a heck of a lot easier than when there is anxiety . . . that your confidence is being breached."

On Republicans and taxes:

"Taxes are always a last resort. My preference obviously would be on the expenditure side. But I have to be very candid. You know, we didn't have a vote on the president's budget in the House because it had a freeze on COLAs {cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees} and half our members didn't want to do a freeze on COLAs. When I see that in my own party, I have to ask my own members: How much guts do you guys have to attack the expenditure side? Otherwise, the figures don't match."

On the budget summit:

"So far, it's been kind of boring. I'm tired of listening to posturing speeches, but I guess you have to go through that . . . On June 6 and 7, I think we're going to go all day. Dick Cheney will be in to talk about defense. Then entitlements. Then {congressional budget} process reforms. And, I suppose, revenues. Then we'll have a better idea where we stand. Once you can dispense with the trappings and get down to the number-crunching, that's when things begin to move."

On the prospects for a budget package:

"It's no sure bet we'll have an agreement, and if anything is agreed upon, I don't look for any overwhelming endorsement from either party {in Congress} . . . It would take a great deal of selling . . . because of the campaign year . . . People look to the president to lead, in good times and bad times. And if a decision has to be made that may not be popular but he thinks is in the interests of the country, he has much more capability to sell it than we as individual members of Congress do . . . It won't be a cakewalk."