Republican lawmakers distanced themselves yesterday from parts of a Bush administration budget proposal while criticizing Democrats for not having a deficit-cutting plan of their own.
GOP lawmakers' unhappiness over the administration's package of about $54 billion in tax increases and spending cuts was heightened because they learned many of its details from news reports, in spite of a 90-minute meeting Thursday afternoon with Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady and Richard G. Darman, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
"We're tired to them coming down to massage us, but not being willing to be specific with us," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the third-ranking House Republican leader.
Of particular concern to GOP lawmakers are provisions in Darman's plan to raise excise taxes on alcoholic beverages, limit the deductibility of all state and local taxes and freeze for one year the cost-of-living adjustments for military and federal retirees.
"A lot of members realize the regressivity of beer and wine taxes," Lewis said. "You're talking about a big wallop to that middle-income family."
The administration's plan, which was endorsed by GOP congressional budget negotiators as an opening bargaining position, calls for increasing the tax on a six-pack of beer to 81 cents from 16 cents, to 76 cents from 3 cents on a 750-milliliter bottle of wine and to $2.54 from $1.98 on a 750-milliliter bottle of 80-proof liquor.
The increases, which would tax the alcohol in each beverage equally at 25 cents per ounce, would raise $7.2 billion in new revenue in fiscal 1991, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Republicans from such highly taxed states as New York and California also opposed tampering with the deductibility of state and local income, real estate and other taxes. The Bush plan would put a $10,000 cap on those currently unlimited deductions, raising between $1.9 billion and $3 billion annually, according to congressional estimates.
House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), the Senate Budget Committee's ranking Republican, both have said they would not support any budget package that included a freeze on cost-of-living increases for 3.8 million military and federal pensioners.
OMB estimates the move would save $1.5 billion in fiscal 1991 and $15 billion over five years.
But GOP congressional budget analysts stressed that the plan was intended to be a negotiating position only and not what the Republicans wanted the final result to be.
"You can agree or disagree, and I do both," Sen. Phil Gramm (Tex.), a GOP budget negotiator, said.
Flying to his Maine summer vacation house aboard Air Force One, President Bush told reporters he was "not locked into any specific proposal."
Republicans, meanwhile, slammed Democrats for not having a plan. "It doesn't seem to me that the Senate leadership wants to negotiate," Rep. Bill Frenzel (Minn.), the Budget Committee's ranking Republican, said. "If they think that we've just been dancing for Democratic amusement, they've got another think coming."
"It's a shame people are trying to figure out how not to work together," White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu said.
Bush, who met with congressional leaders each morning since Tuesday to discuss the budget talks, said that despite the slow progress he believed the negotiators were bargaining "in very good faith . . . . I think we're narrowing some of our differences. But it's not dramatic progress at all."
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.