President Bush will veto any budget package that fails to meet his conditions and is prepared to shut down the federal government again next weekend if he and Congress cannot reach agreement, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu said yesterday.
Sununu said he is pessimistic that the House and Senate can settle their differences with the administration over a five-year, $500 billion deficit-reduction package by midnight Friday, when the government is again scheduled to run out of money.
Some members of Congress believe Bush will sign whatever emerges from Congress late this week, on the assumption that he needs an agreement to help restore his declining poll ratings.
But Sununu continued the hard line from the administration. "I don't believe the president is of a mind to do that," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "In fact, I'm positive he's not."
Sununu added that the chances of another government shutdown are "probably relatively high."
Administration officials and key congressional Democrats gave the public a preview of what the final weeks of the fall campaign will sound like yesterday, as they traded partisan charges over who's to blame for the failure to produce a budget for fiscal 1991, which began Oct. 1.
Sununu and Vice President Quayle blamed Congress. "The Democrats control Congress," Quayle said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "The Democrats are the ones that have failed to produce the budget."
Sununu said last week's confusion resulted not from Bush's failure to stake out a clear position on tax rates and capital gains cuts, but rather from "Congress drifting back and forth."
The administration officials also sharply attacked a House Democratic tax plan, which includes a number of provisions aimed at the rich, saying that it also delays adjusting taxes for inflation for a year and therefore represents an across-the-board increase in tax rates for all families.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), the principal architect of the Democratic plan, defended it as a political statement by Democrats. "If a political statement is made in the package . . . it's that we want to protect middle-income and poor America, and we want everybody to share in the pain of governing," he said on CNN's "Newsmaker Sunday."
The administration finds the package approved by the Senate Finance Committee far more attractive, Sununu said yesterday. Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) said the bipartisan package improves on the defeated budget summit agreement by placing more of the burden on the wealthy without directly affecting tax rates.
But he said he still prefers to raise the tax rate on the wealthiest to 33 percent. "I talked to the president about that," Bentsen said on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley." "I talked about trading a modest capital gains tax for that. And for a time I thought we were making some headway, but he changed his mind several times on that."