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Reagan’s Budget: ‘Dead on Arrival’ in Congress?

January 14, 1985 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A House Democratic leader says President Reagan’s new budget is ″dead before arrival″ on Capitol Hill and that Democrats will wait to take action on deficit reduction until Senate Republicans and the president can agree.

But Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., says the Democrats ″can’t take a walk on this.″

Meanwhile, White House budget director David A. Stockman acknowledged Sunday that the budget Reagan submits to Congress on Feb. 4 will not meet the president’s goal of slicing the deficit to less than $100 billion by 1988 - a level roughly equal to 2 percent of the gross national product.

Stockman, appearing on ABC’s ″This Week,″ said ″I don’t know that we’re going to hit that target on the head.″

Senate Republicans already have begun private meetings aimed at coming up with a plan that would meet the goal, but Stockman emphasized that the Senate action does not mean the president has given up on the issue.

Stockman said the budget Reagan submits to Congress will meet the short term goal of holding overall spending for next year at this year’s level. That will be accomplished through freezing some programs and cutting or eliminating others, many of which are politically popular.

The budget director also said that without action, budget deficits will be $225 billion to $240 billion in each of the next three years.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Democrats have yet to see a consensus emerging between the president and the Senate Republicans on how they will proceed. And until a consensus is reached, Democrats will bide their time.

″We will not act until this president tells us what he wants and until the Senate has done something with that budget,″ Gephardt said on the ABC show. ″They (the Republicans) have the burden of acting. They won the presidency.″

″I think it’s a stalemate, backup situation,″ Gephardt said. ″We’ve got a bystander president who’s not leading the country and until he does you’re not going to resolve the problem.″

Gephardt also said the action by Senate Republicans to write their own plan now shows there is no support for the budget plan Reagan has been preparing.

″Now we believe that the president’s budget that he’s working on is really going to be dead before arrival,″ Gephardt said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, guaranteed there would be significant deficit-reduction action in the Senate.

″We’re hoping it will be something the president can support because we’ve taken his (budget) to begin with and built on it,″ Domenici said in a separate appearance on the ABC show.

Gephardt said, ″If the Senate reaches an across-the-board (federal spending) freeze that includes defense, that really gets you $100 or $120 billion of deficit-reduction by 1988, then I think the burden is thrown to the House to see if we can match that figure.″

In an interview with a group of reporters on Saturday, Dole conceded, ″If anything’s going to happen, it’s going to happen first on our side, on the Senate side.″

But Dole added, ″I’ve got to believe the Democrats can’t take a walk on this. ... I don’t believe they can, sort of, be the dog in the manger. Wait and see whatever we do and then say it’s too bad or terrible or try to please all the special interest groups.″

Gephardt said Democrats ″don’t put anything off the table. We’re willing to look at any proposal. Everything is on the table including defense and Social Security and tax increases.″

But he added, ″I don’t think we probably will touch Social Security. I think that’s probably the last place that you could ever find a majority in the House,″ and ″the odds are heavily against″ a tax increase.

Dole agreed that it is unlikley taxes will be a component of any deficit- reduction plan Congress agreed to this year.