President Bush and his advisers churned through a day of wrestling with the politics of the budget yesterday as the Cabinet debated whether to try to halt the talks until after a new Congress is elected in January. Meanwhile, aides hastily arranged a campaign-style rally for Bush today to send him off on five days of electioneering and then just as abruptly canceled it when the president decided to stay in town.
Sources said yesterday's Cabinet meeting reflected the divisions in Republican ranks that have been on public display in Congress during the budget debate. At the session, Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher raised the possibility of halting the budget talks, accepting a temporary spending resolution that would run for several months and then taking the issue to the voters by asking them to elect a Congress that would cooperate with the administration.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp echoed that view, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward J. Derwinski also spoke up in support of this strategy, officials said. Vice President Quayle, although he did not speak at yesterday's Cabinet meeting, was also said to agree that the budget talks should end. House Republicans have transmitted a similar message to the White House, officials said.
But Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman said that a budget deal would be good for the economy and should continue to be the administration's goal. White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu made a similar appeal.
Bush backed Darman's view, emphasizing that for the sake of the economy, it was essential to get a deficit-reduction agreement.
Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, who, with Sununu and Darman, is one of the three principal administration negotiators in the budget talks, did not speak during the discussion. Neither did Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who has been advising Bush privately in recent days on budget strategy.
Bush reportedly has received private advice over the past several days urging him to consider rejecting a deal with the Democrats and turning the issue into a political fight.
Charles Black, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told reporters yesterday morning that "as soon as this is over with," the president "will be on the campaign trail and we're going to have a very sharp debate about why this happened, how it happened. . . . "
Black was to be master of ceremonies at the rally. Bush had scheduled about 12 days of campaigning in 14 states between now and the Nov. 6 election, but it is unclear now what his pitch will be or how much of the schedule he will follow, officials said.