White House, Congress trade shots over '83 budget

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

President Reagan's budget for fiscal 1983 continues to find a chilly reception in Washington. The iciness of Congressional Democrats is, of course, somewhat predictable. But it's the coolness among Republicans that has the White House worried.

Few heads were turned when Democrats, led by House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. of Massachusetts, attacked the budget for building up the military at the expense of the poor, the unemployed, and the environment. But instead of spirited defense in the the Republican camp, which last year rang out praises for Mr. Reagan's economic program, there is a damaging quiet..

Senate Budget Committee chairman Pete V. Domenici (R) of New Mexico has not yet uttered a public word on the President's budget. He had already voiced serious concerns over deficits estimated at $99 billion for the current fiscal year and $92 billion for '83.

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On the Senate floor, Ernest F. Hollings (D) of South Carolina proposed Feb. 10 a crash savings program to cut the deficit to $42 billion. His alternative would freeze defense spending, hold entitlements (payments ranging from food stamps to social security) at current levels, and take back some of the personal tax cuts voted last year. Such a plan would run against almost every principle President Reagan has laid down.

And yet Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee has said he is interested in the Hollings proposal. A number of Republicans and some Democrats are examining the budget, trying to find ways to change it, says a Senate leadership aide.

''Everybody is somewhat stunned by those deficits,'' says the aide. ''I would not interpret the silence as a general rejection, but it's an effort to come up with a consensus opinion.''

Meanwhile, presidential advisers launched their campaign for winning passage of the budget this week in a highly skeptical House Appropriations Committee. ''It hasn't turned out like you hoped it would,'' chairman Jamie L. Whitten (D) of Mississippi told his witnesses, who included David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of the Treasury Donald T. Regan, and Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

Americans are saving money now because ''they are afraid to buy'' in case they lose their jobs, said Congressman Whitten, listing problems of the recession.

Administration officials denied the Reagan economic plan caused the recession. High interest rates ''sapped an awful lot of strength in the building industry and automobile industry,'' said Secretary Regan. In turn, the downturn in the economy sparked the soaring deficit, said Budget Director Stockman.

Moreover, the Treasury secretary argued that reducing inflation rates is more important than cutting deficits. He said that if Americans increase their savings just 2 percent, there will be enough money for both the government and private enterprise to borrow, even if deficits are big.

Rep. Sylvio O. Conte of Massachusetts, ranking Republican member of the Appropriations Committee, pointed to the rise in defense and fall in nondefense spending. ''I can't agree with the priorities,'' he told the trio of Reagan officials. ''Is there some give in the defense budget?''

Budget Director Stockman said that for 1983, the only possible cuts from defense would be in pay or military preparedness.

He later conceded that spending for the poor will be cut in some areas. While some programs, such as medicaid, will continue to go up, ''there are some programs that are flat or going down,'' said the budget director, citing federal aid to education in poor neighborhoods, food stamps, and grants for low-income college students.

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