The budget battle between President Clinton and Congress turns on many things, but House Speaker Newt Gingrich keeps coming back to that long plane flight back from Israel when he says the president ignored and insulted him.

Gingrich (R-Ga.) yesterday said the tough terms of the interim spending bill Clinton vetoed Monday night, triggering a partial government shutdown, were partly the result of pique he and Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) felt on Air Force One during the long round-trip flight to Jerusalem for the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "This is petty," he told reporters. "{But} you land at Andrews {Air Force Base} and you've been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp. . . . You just wonder, where is their sense of manners? Where is their sense of courtesy?" At a breakfast with reporters, Gingrich delivered an almost stream-of-consciousness analysis of the current political crisis, a candid performance he said he knew his press secretary would not like. Gingrich alternately and astutely described how his party was positioned in the current debate over the budget, and angrily relived -- at length -- the disrespect he felt he suffered at the president's hands aboard Air Force One. He said that the fact that Clinton did not speak to him or Dole during the trip to and from Jerusalem is "part of why you ended up with us sending down a tougher" interim spending bill. "It's petty . . . but I think it's human." Gingrich's comments brought immediate disdain from Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), who was also on the trip to attend Rabin's funeral, called on Gingrich to "quit the whining -- let's get on with the real business here." And White House press secretary Michael McCurry reacted with mock disbelief when asked about Gingrich's allegations of disrespect on the part of the president. "You all know that they were going to mourn the death by assassination of the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin," McCurry told reporters at his daily briefing. "And the speaker was treated with utmost courtesy. In fact, so much courtesy that his wife was invited when other wives of this delegation were not invited. And until someone shows me these words in black and white, I will refuse to believe that the speaker said anything that as you described it as so petty. . . . I just fail to believe the speaker would somehow connect this to the current budget crisis." As the budget battle intensifies, the bickering between Clinton and congressional Republican leaders is becoming increasingly bitter and personal. During Monday night's Oval Office meeting between Clinton and congressional leaders, for instance, House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) complained about having "to listen to these lies" from the White House, according to a participant. Clinton responded by saying the congressional Republicans had been worse in their attacks, telling Armey, who had criticized Hillary Rodham Clinton during last year's health care debate: "I never, ever have and never expect to criticize your wife or members of your family." A phone call last Saturday produced complaints of rudeness on the president's part. Dole complained publicly that Clinton had all but hung up on him when he called to discuss a possible budget deal, and Gingrich was angry that Clinton promised to call them back and never did. The White House explained that Clinton was leaving for a Veterans Day event when the Republicans called and that Clinton said then he could talk for only five or six minutes. The tension is not surprising. Gingrich is in the midst of the most crucial week yet of his speakership. Not only is he engaged in a high-stakes confrontation with Clinton, but he and his leadership team are struggling to complete work on the massive Republican balanced-budget bill -- which leaders vowed would be done last Friday. Gingrich called the measure "central" to Republicans. "It will decide for a generation who we are," he said. "This is not a game of political chicken . . . this is not a bunch of juveniles," the speaker said. "This is a serious, historic debate and a serious, historic power struggle. . . . That's why there will not be an immediate resolution to this crisis." Gingrich told reporters that is why the lack of negotiations aboard Air Force One was so serious. The speaker said the airborne silence was a signal "that they had made a decision because of their political calculation that they wanted a fight. . . . Our calculation was that they hadn't seen us deliberately. . . . Our feelings aren't hurt." The speaker said the terms of the interim spending bill were toughened because it was clear it would have to pass without Democratic support. Whether Gingrich took it as an affront or not, the incident became a rallying cry among House Republicans, who rarely failed to mention it when asked about the possibility of working with the administration. Among the other things on which the budget battle is turning, Gingrich said, is instinct. That, he said, was the basis for the Republicans' demand that the federal budget deficit be eliminated in seven years. Clinton is refusing to accept that time frame and, earlier this year, proposed balancing the budget in 10 years. "Seven {years} is the longest period in which you can maintain the discipline to insist on it happening," Gingrich said. "Ten {years} allows you to avoid all the decisions that get you to a balanced budget." Asked on what that was based, the speaker gave a one-word answer: "Intuition."

Gingrich also dismissed polls indicating that more Americans blame congressional Republicans than Clinton for the budget impasse, saying that his party would win in the long run.

Gingrich said the average American "frankly hasn't thought about it, doesn't particularly care. . . . If the choice {of whom to blame} is a vacillating, extremely misleading president who refuses to make any serious decisions, who refuses to tell the truth and shows up on television trying to make you like him by telling you things that aren't true, and a Congress that says in a very firm, adult way: Yeah, we're going to balance the budget.' Now of those two, which one is more likely to get blamed?" But, Gingrich said, the Republicans will prevail. "The public relations fight is easy," he said. "That's why we've ignored it. . . . We're on the right side of history, we're on the right side of this culture." Staff writers David S. Broder and Ann Devroy contributed to this report. CAPTION: Speaker Gingrich said "it's petty . . . {but} human" to be irritated by a snub.