With Congress and the administration seemingly headed for another budget crisis this fall, more than a dozen House GOP moderates have urged President Clinton and congressional leaders to negotiate changes in the 1997 balanced budget deal to ease spending constraints.
However, White House budget director Jacob "Jack" Lew yesterday discouraged talk of a budget summit, saying there are other ways to address the current problem.
Though the government is reaping record surpluses, House and Senate appropriators are struggling to stay within the tight spending restrictions written into budget law.
GOP infighting over strategy for coping with the spending caps produced legislative gridlock in the House this week and raised fresh questions about their capacity to govern with only a slim majority. Moreover, Congress recently passed emergency spending legislation to finance the war in Kosovo that was designed in part to get around the spending restrictions in the budget agreement.
In a letter to Clinton and GOP congressional leaders, Reps. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), John Edward Porter (R-Ill.) and 12 other moderates said that it would take a budget summit to avert another stalemate over nearly half of the government's 13 annual spending bills. Maryland Reps. Constance A. Morella and Wayne T. Gilchrest signed the letter.
"The difficult issues involving discretionary spending levels can only be resolved by the President and the congressional leadership," the letter stated. The letter also said that while the moderates strongly support continued fiscal prudence, "The current caps are not being observed and efforts to circumvent them through emergency spending are resulting in more spending than if the problem was addressed directly."
Lew said the administration is unwilling to discuss easing the spending constraints until Congress reconsiders the president's proposals for reforming Social Security and Medicare and for raising additional revenue to cover increased spending.
"We don't support reopening the budget agreement if you mean busting the [spending] caps," Lew said during a breakfast meeting with reporters.
Lew added that the Republicans' problem chiefly stems from their decision to reject Clinton's proposals and to adopt a budget plan of their own for the coming fiscal year "that fundamentally doesn't work."
"We put forward a [budget] plan and the ball is properly in Congress's court right now," he said.
CAPTION: White House budget chief Jacob Lew discouraged talk of a summit.