Declaring a break in serious budget talks, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman urged congressional Republicans yesterday to join the administration in blaming the Democrats for the failure of deficit-reduction negotiations.
President Bush met with budget negotiators yesterday for an hour and sources said he warned them that his pledge last week not to attack Democrats on the budget was no longer operative. Sununu and Darman then went to Capitol Hill and told House and Senate Republican leadership groups that the partisan cease-fire should be considered over, a senior administration official said.
Officials said Bush is expected to reinforce that message by telling House and Senate Republicans at a White House breakfast this morning that key Democrats have not bargained in good faith and that the GOP should make that case to the public during the congressional recess this month.
While the White House would not say yesterday that all hope for productive talks was gone, House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said, "For all practical purposes, the summit talks have collapsed. There have been no serious discussions for weeks."
The renewal of partisan warfare does not preclude resumption of serious budget talks when Congress returns from the recess in September. White House and congressional negotiators yesterday were working on a resolution that would establish deadlines for House and Senate votes on a budget pact. But many officials expressed strong doubts that politicians heading into a November election would be any more likely in September to agree on unpopular steps they were avoiding in July.
Congressional Republicans and administration officials want the timetable, including a date for passing a budget resolution, incorporated into either the legislation that allows Congress to adjourn or a vital measure raising the national debt ceiling.
A senior administration official said the GOP congressional leadership thinks the White House has "been taken for a ride" by the Democrats on the talks so far and the only way to recoup is to force the Democrats into a schedule they must meet or break.
Gingrich, in an interview and in two-page memo he distributed to administration and other GOP officials, called the budget summit a mistake from the outset and suggested that the White House should treat the talks the way the Coca-Cola Co. treated the fiasco of New Coke. "We should get up and say we goofed and we're bringing back Republican Classic" by emphasizing GOP stands against tax increases and for spending cuts and by running against the Democratic Congress as the big spenders, he said.
Reflecting widespread anger among House Republicans over what many see as inept White House handling of the budget negotiations, Gingrich said the talks had been "a travesty" in which "Democrats have stiffed the president every day" and "continued to vote huge new spending programs in Congress while talking cuts in private budget talks. I have kept my mouth shut but this clearly has not succeeded. The Democrats simply do not have our values. We goofed. We attempted to deal with the Democrats as if they were responsible citizens."
Gingrich urged Bush to go to the country and run against Congress on the spending issue. "He needs to energerize the country against the tax-and-spend Democrats," he said.
The partisan maneuvering occurred as the House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to take the Social Security trust fund surplus out of the calculation of the federal budget deficit beginning in fiscal 1992, a move that would further swell the deficit.
Lawmakers voted 413 to 15 to add the provision, offered by Rep. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), to a measure that would raise the federal government's borrowing limit to $3.44 trillion from $3.12 trillion. The underlying legislation raising the debt ceiling was then narrowly approved, 221 to 205.
The idea of taking the Social Security trust fund out of the deficit calculation has broad support in Congress. Lawmakers argue that the current accounting masks the true size of the deficit.
Earlier last month, the Senate Budget Committee voted 20 to 1 to approve legislation sponsored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) that would remove the Social Security surplus from the deficit calculation in the coming fiscal year. That would make the fiscal 1991 deficit $241.8 billion without the cost of the savings and loan clean-up, according to OMB estimates.
Removing the surplus Social Security monies in fiscal 1992 would add $83 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Changing the accounting would force a change in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law's deficit targets. But the law would have to be changed as part of a budget deal in any case because bargainers have conceded that meeting the fiscal 1991 deficit target of $64 billion would be too much for the economy to handle.
In addition, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) said yesterday that he would offer as an amendment to the debt-ceiling bill his politically appealing plan to cut the Social Security payroll tax. To make it more attractive to lawmakers, Moynihan would spread the cut over five years. The proposal would cut payroll taxes for someone with a current annual salary of $51,300 a year about $1,878 over those five years.