The defense-oriented, financially balanced budget for 1981 is being jettisoned. In its place: a plan with more emphasis on social programs. Last March President Carter, his economic advisers, and congressional budget writers thought that balancing the budget and controlling consumer credit (also now jettisoned) were the way to outrace 18.1 percent inflation. Military spending was emphasized because of the Soviet threat, magnified by the invasion of Afghanistan and tension in the Persian Gulf.
Now an ominous recession looms -- apparently more ominous to the President and his advisers than overseas military developments. So, as the House prepared on Thursday (May 29) to vote on -- and probably vote down -- the tortuously crafted 1981 federal budget, both Mr. Carter and Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill jr. (D) of Massachusetts reconsidered their previous positions and slammed on the brakes. They oppose the budget as drafted because, they say, more social spending, and less military, is needed in the face of a recession.
Senate Budget Committee chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D) of South Carolina, the prime mover in pushing for a big defense-spending increase, was the first to cry foul. He was joined by other congressional budget drafters who have worked for the past two months in close alliance with the White House.
Senator Hollings called the President's opposition to the budget "the height of hypocrisy" and "outrageous, deplorable conduct." Senate GOP leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee said Mr. Carter had made "a great mistake."
But Speaker O'Neill said the $613.3 billion spending plan has "too much money for defense" and therefore "goes against the basic Democratic philosophy" of aiding the needy, particularly in the event of a worsening recession.
A group of moderate and liberal Democrats, including most of the Democrats on the House Budget Committee, had been working to defeat the bill and send it back to a conference committee.
The acrimony between the White House and Capitol was heightened by an awkward sequence of statements by the President this week. On Monday, Mr. Carter welcomed home the aircraft carrier Nimitz and told the sailors he favored increased military compensation. Then on Tuesday he told community leaders that more should be spent on social programs.
A victory for the current budget proposal could come about if Republican congressmen vote as a solid bloc. The Republicans do not favor the current budget because, they feel, it is balanced artificially and does not provide a tax cut. But not to support it might open the way for even less military funding in a new budget.