Republican budget negotiators, steamed over the political drubbing an administration plan for reducing the deficit has taken, angrily charged yesterday that Democrats were bargaining in bad faith and demanded that they live up to an agreement to prepare a plan of their own.
But Democrats denied they had broken any agreements with the White House, and the sparring provided another indication that the hope of reaching an agreement before the August congressional recess is virtually gone.
The Republican outburst came after an hour-long meeting at the White House with President Bush and other administration officials. According to Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), Bush told the group that he was "annoyed" by the pace of the talks and that there was general frustration over the Democrats' failure to offer a package for reducing the deficit, now that Republicans have prepared one of their own.
The Republican negotiators said they had discussed with Bush the possibility of asking Congress to forgo part of its summer vacation, at least until the Democrats present their plan. But an administration official said there was "not much" consensus for disrupting the recess.
Bush asked the bipartisan congressional leadership to come to the White House this morning for another meeting, the latest effort to push the talks forward. The outcome of that session, an administration official said, likely will determine whether Bush personally and publicly begins to turn up the heat on the Democrats.
Saying that Bush had "walked the extra mile" by signaling his willingness to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) tried to prod Democrats to come forward with their package. "Where's the beef?" he said, adding: "They've got a blank piece of paper. We've got a plan."
The White House meeting came shortly after House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) ruled out presentation of a Democratic budget plan before the August recess, which begins in the House Friday and the Senate Aug. 10. Foley said he saw no purpose in floating a proposal that could be subjected to political criticism during the recess if there were not going to be serious negotiations for several weeks.
Asked whether Democrats owed the Republicans a proposal, Foley said bluntly: "No. N-O."
The administration has not formally presented its budget plan to the Democratic negotiators, but key elements have leaked out, including proposals to limit deductions for state and local taxes and to raise taxes on alcohol.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) yesterday accused Democrats of breaking an agreement under which the two sides would simultaneously present plans for reducing the deficit. Those plans would then be used as the basis for serious negotiations. "We made a deal. We're willing to live up to our deal," said Domenici. "They've done nothing."
But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) disputed Domenici. "I'm aware of no promise that had been made by either side to lay down a plan," he said.
Democrats charged that Republicans had not formally presented their offer, even though its details have been the subject of news reports. "The fact is we have never seen a full presentation on their plan," said House Budget Committee Chairman Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.). "What we've had is a series of leaks from the Republican side."
"They haven't acknowledged the child or rejected it as an orphan," Foley said.
"Until we get a formal presentation from them, it appears their complaints are premature," Sasser said.
But the leaks have hurt the administration. Republicans who were not part of the negotiations reacted negatively to the proposed tax increases, and governors, meeting in Mobile, Ala., decried the effort to limit state and local tax deductions as another effort by the federal government to shift the fiscal burden to the states.
"What frustrates me is that the president was willing to sacrifice politically to help us get an agreement," Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) said, referring to Bush's decision to abandon his "no new taxes" campaign pledge. "Name me a Democrat who has taken one courageous stand or made one proposal to make this budget process work."
But some Democrats believe the longer they hold out, the better the deal they can strike. Some Republicans involved in the overall process say privately the Democrats have outfoxed the administration in political maneuvering over the deficit.