Guns-vs.-butter debate in Congress largely symbolic

What is the likely pocketbook impact of Congress's often-contradictory and confusing wrangle over the federal budget? The portion of each American's taxes spent on the military next year may increase by a few dollars less.

Other than that, the classic guns-vs.-butter skirmish remains largely symbolic.

The overall size of the federal budget will stay pretty much the same -- around $613 billion. In raw terms this means the 1981 budget will be 7 percent larger than this year's, but if adjusted for inflation nearly 3 percent smaller. The basic dimensions of the balanced budget are not in question.

Defense spending probably still will receive its largest peacetime increase in the nation's history. And it will continue to consume the second-largest share of government spending, exceeded only by income-security programs such as social security.

Money for the military is expected to remain in the general vicinity of $150 billion -- up from $135 billion this year -- even after the budget renegotiations this week, forced by the rejection of the budget May 29 by the House of Representatives.

At issue is less than 1 percent of the budget and of the federal tax dollar.

That's the size of the legislative disagreement that precipitated the budget's defeat in the House.

The prevailing attitude toward the defense-heavy budget among the Democrats who control the House is summed up by Speaker O'Neill:

"It's not in tune with the basic philosophy of the Democratic Party and the [ social] programs I worked for all these years."

To help fund the extra defense spending, the budget had cut $4 billion more from domestic social programs above the $16 billion already trimmed by the House.

The rejected budget, which had been worked out by a conference committee as a compromise between the differing versions passed earlier by the House and Senate , projected $5.8 billion more spending for defense than the House originally had voted.

Now House and Senate conferees, who had anguished seven days over the defeated budget, return to their calculations. Some predict arduous negotiations. But others detect a new spirit of realistic accomodation.

One senior conferee foresees a compromise after only a couple of days of impasse.

Agreement may be quickened by the widespread desire among lawmakers up for reelection just five months from now to complete some form of a balanced budget.

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