The anger and frustration surrounding the stalled budget talks erupted on the Senate floor yesterday as GOP lawmakers bitterly complained about disclosures to reporters of a Bush administration tax proposal.
"I am sick of playing games," thundered Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). "I am not certain we ought to continue to negotiate on this basis . . . It is not going to work if this garbage keeps piling up day after day."
"What we're looking at here are not random leaks," complained Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.). "We're looking at a concerted, partisan effort to affix the blame."
Grievances about the disclosures were also aired at the Andrews Air Force Base Officers' Club, where a small group of the negotiators discussed taxes yesterday, according to officials familiar with the proceedings.
Yesterday's planned meeting of the full budget negotiating group was canceled and the talks are not scheduled to resume until Sunday evening. The revised schedule virtually guarantees that an agreement will not be reached until next week.
President Bush yesterday described the talks as "kind of up and down like a roller coaster." Asked if he expected an agreement at Sunday's meeting, the president said, "Expected one a week ago."
The publicly stated reason for the hiatus was that staff aides needed time to produce revised cost estimates for proposed tax changes and benefit program cuts. But officials said they also hoped tempers would cool over the abbreviated weekend.
The tempers were sparked by reports that a package of tax-law changes the Bush administration proposed earlier in the week would effectively reduce the federal tax burden over five years for those with incomes higher than $50,000 a year and raise the taxes paid by those with lower incomes. The income levels represent adjusted gross incomes for individual or joint tax returns.
The analysis by Congress's nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation took into account the proposed changes to federal taxes, including excise and capital gains taxes and revisions to the treatment of federal income tax deductions. The committee also projected that a competing Democratic tax plan would cut the federal tax bill over five years for those with annual incomes lower than $20,000 and raise it for those with higher incomes.
"There is a deliberate effort by some on the other side . . . to cast this as a Republicans for the rich and they are for everybody else," Dole said. "That is the old Democrat lie that has been out here for 20, 30, 40 years."
An angry Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said that disclosures to reporters would threaten the already slow progress of the talks.
Saying that it takes courage to offer politically unpopular proposals, he said, "There won't be much courage out there if that tough proposal is all over the country . . . Don't burden an already difficult ship with this kind of thing or it will sink."
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) later took the Senate floor to join condemnation of leaks, urging participants in the budget talks to exercise "self-restraint and discipline." But, he added, "The record should be clear that the leaks have not been all one-way."