President Bush and congressional leaders came together yesterday to embrace the largest deficit-reduction agreement ever proposed and vowed to work together to push the painful combination of tax increases and spending cuts through a resistant Congress.

The ambitious accord, reached just hours before across-the-board spending cuts were set to be imposed today, would affect virtually every government program, paring health benefits to the elderly, raising excise taxes and making deep cuts in military spending.

"It is balanced, it is fair, and in my view it is what the United States of America needs," Bush said in an afternoon Rose Garden ceremony that culminated five months of often combative, partisan negotiations over the package.

Bush and the bipartisan congressional leadership now face the formidable task of persuading reluctant lawmakers -- especially conservative House Republicans -- to go against their natural inclinations and vote for spending cuts and tax increases just weeks before Election Day. The difficulty they face was underscored on Capitol Hill yesterday, where the plan was greeted by a firestorm of criticism from conservative Republicans and skepticism by many Democrats. {Details on Page A8.}

"Now comes the hard part," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine.).

The leaders urged lawmakers to ignore the pain of individual provisions in the package and concentrate instead on the benefits of soaking up $500 billion in federal red ink over five years. "We owe more to the American people than finding fault with what I consider to be a good agreement . . . that will help the American economy," said Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).

"The alternative to this agreement is fiscal chaos," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Economists said the plan should bolster the economy in the long run but is not likely to help ease the country's economic troubles in the short term. {Details on Page A11.}

The accord cleared the way for last-minute congressional approval of an omnibus stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through Friday and put off massive across-the-board cuts at least until then.

The House voted 382 to 41 to pass the measure yesterday evening. Nearly an hour later, the Senate approved it on a voice vote.

The deal envisions saving $40.1 billion from the deficit in the fiscal year that begins today, with the deficit now reestimated at a record $293.7 billion. Even if all of the savings in the plan are achieved, the shortfall would still be more than twice as high as the Bush administration had previously projected it would be without any action.

The bargainers sought at least $50 billion in savings this fiscal year, but lowered their sights in order to phase in an increase in the federal gasoline tax because of the current escalation of energy prices.

Of the projected five-year savings, $133.8 billion would come from new taxes, much of it from excise taxes on gasoline and other petroleum products, except home heating oil, and higher excise taxes on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and airline tickets.

As much as $18 billion of that total would be raised by limiting the benefit of federal income tax deductions for those earning more than $100,000 a year. This provision would effectively raise marginal tax rates by one percentage point for taxpayers -- single or married filing jointly -- who itemize deductions and have adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or more. Another $14.2 billion would be raised in new federal fees, according to Bush administration estimates.

The issue that had stalled the budget talks for so long -- Bush's campaign pledge to lower taxes on capital gains -- was not included in the deal at all. Neither was the Democrats' counter-demand that income tax rates on the wealthiest Americans be raised.

Bush did get tax incentives for investment that can be portrayed as meeting his objective of trying to spur the economy. But the package's heavy reliance on excise taxes, which hit lower- and middle-income earners proportionately harder than the wealthy, makes it difficult for Democrats to argue that they had protected those earners.

In other key provisions of the accord, spending for benefit programs would be cut by about $104.8 billion below what would be needed to keep pace with inflation, including $59.9 billion from Medicare. One of the final decisions made as the talks drew to a close early yesterday morning was not to seek any savings from the Social Security program. Negotiators concluded that the likely pain involved in activating opposition by the politically potent organizations of the elderly would not be worth the fiscal savings, officials familiar with the proceedings said.

Military spending would be pared by nearly $180 billion. The costs of operations in the Persian Gulf, projected at $11.5 billion for the next year, would not be included in the spending limit. Most non-military spending would be held to the projected rate of inflation.

"This is real," Bush said. "It is not a phony smoke-and-mirrors deficit-cutting program." House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) agreed: "There's not a lot of budget maneuvering here."

The agreement does, however, have questionable aspects. It projects, for instance, raising $9.4 billion over five years from stricter Internal Revenue Service enforcement, an outcome the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has always looked upon with skepticism.

The deal also advertises $119 billion in benefit program cuts, but $14.2 billion of that would result from new federal fees. Further, the promised savings in programs subject to annual appropriations were not allocated between military and non-military programs beyond the plan's third year, allowing lawmakers to seek deeper cuts in Pentagon accounts in order to allow domestic spending to grow.

Under the agreement, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law would get its second overhaul. The deficit law, set to expire in 1993, would be extended through 1995.

The changes would establish three categories of spending: military, domestic and international. The automatic cuts needed to meet the law's deficit-reduction targets would come only from the category that exceeds its limit. Currently, all spending would be cut across-the-board if a deficit target is missed.

In addition, any new program that would either spend or lose more money must be offset to avoid adding to the deficit.

Tucked away inside the package are huge revisions in the forecasts of the federal deficit, the administration's fifth this year. About half of the increase, $30.4 billion, was due to the slowing economy, while $31.2 billion was attributed to increases in the anticipated cost of the savings and loan cleanup and of increased costs related to problems in the commercial banking system.

Having come to the precipice of total government shutdown, administration officials and congressional leaders agreed as part of the accord to keep moving the cliff to create pressure for enactment of the budget deal with a series of deadlines that threaten government shutdown and default.

"This is a marriage of convenience and if we take the shotgun away, they might not do it," said Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.).

Staff writers Ann Devroy and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.