Domenici's budget compromise: only a prelude to tougher stand
After fruitless tries to bring his own party members into line, Senate budget chairman Pete V. Domenici announced solemnly last week, ''I remain convinced that we must have a (budget) resolution, and I will do everything in my power to get one.''Skip to next paragraph
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By week's end, the New Mexico Republican had done just about everything.
The budget chairman, who helped install the Reagan economic program in 1981, voted last Thursday to send to the Senate floor a 1984 budget that could hardly be farther from Mr. Reagan's wishes. It calls for $30 billion in new taxes that the White House opposes, while proposing $11 billion more in domestic spending and half as much defense growth as Mr. Reagan requested.
''It'll get fixed up'' on the floor of the Senate, said Mr. Domenici in an interview late last week. He made it plain he will fight to reduce the tax number and add more for defense when the full Senate takes up the budget, probably next Monday.
The budget chairman rejected the notion that his committee's action is a rebuke to the President. ''I don't see it as a finished product. So rather than talk about how the President came out, I think we ought to wait about two weeks, '' he said.
The two-term senator has lived up to his reputation as a pragmatic conservative in this latest budget round. When he saw that some of his doctrinaire Republican colleagues would not vote for any budget with tax increases, he turned to the Democrats to try to strike a deal, but ''they never reached the numbers that I thought a broad spectrum of my party could support,'' Domenici said.
So he came up with a plan to break the deadlock. Domenici had lunch with Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, and informed a surprised Senator Chiles that he and three fellow GOP moderates would vote for the Democrat's $30 billion tax number.
Explaining his strategy later, Domenici said he ''would feel much more comfortable having permitted the Democrats to win with a very high tax number, than to have negotiated a middle ground and been compelled to support the budget resolution that we negotiated.''
Now, with a clear conscience, he can fight for his own tax numbers, which are close to those in the White House proposal. That plan would delay any significant new taxes until 1986. ''One of the worst things we could do would be to vote heavy taxes in 1984 and '85 - politically and economically,'' said Domenici. ''And I'm not going to be any part of that.''
What Domenici did accomplish was to push the budget debate onto the Senate floor. According to Domenici, the budget process itself would have been in jeopardy unless the committee acted.
''I have a responsibility to produce a budget that the Senate can vote on,'' he said. ''It feels much better to take one to the floor that has . . . the President's support and that you have all the Republicans on. But I don't think that was possible this year.''