Speaking of the size of federal spending, Everett McKinley Dirksen once quipped, "a million here and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."
In these inflationary times, the late Senate Republican leader would have used the word "billion." Congress this week raced against a self-imposed June 12 deadline to cut $36 billion from federal spending -- "real money" by anbody's standard. It had to in order to "reconcile" future expenditures with overall budget objectives set earlier.
The drive shaft inside this groaning, squealing legislative engine is the Reagan mandate to slow down the government locomotive by limiting its fuel.
On the surface, the President is getting most of what he wants. House and Senate committees are making significant cuts in programs once thought sacrosanct: housing, health care, social services, transportation. Only the generals and admirals are smiling.
Yet the White House has had to make significant concessions, and it faces considerable opposition ahead. There will be more opportunities for program supporters to do some strong arm-twisting and utilize what administration Budget Director David A. Stockman calls "creative accounting" in forming final budget figures.
In particular, President Reagan's "new federalism" is faring poorly.Both Republicans and Democrats are changing substantially (in some cases, rejecting outright) White House proposals to consolidate categorical federal programs into black grants to the states. Some programs that the President especially wanted to eliminate -- legal services for the poor, for example -- will continue, albeit in much reduced form.
Under the 1982 budget resolution passed last month, 15 committees in the House and 14 committees in the Senate must make the individual program cuts necessary to meet next years's spending target of $695 billion.
Democrats complain of "a gun pointed at our heads," but have accepted many of the cuts anyway, at least for the moment. House committees (dominated by Democrats) have cut $1 billion in college student aid, $2.8 billion from public service CETA jobs, and $1 billion in child nutrition programs, among other things.
Senate committee members have voted to cut food stamp expenditures by $1.8 billion, more than House lawmakers or even the President had wanted. They also reduced "impact aid" (to school districts with many federal employees) by 75 percent.
The full Senate has approved legislation for 150,000 units of low-income housing in 1982 -- 25, 000 less than President Reagan had requested.
All of this substantially adds up to the "real money" that President Reagan wants to eliminate from projected federal spending. The White House may have won the battle, but the war is far from over. It still is very possible that Democrats could fight in full House and Senate to restore some of what initially has been cut from their favorite programs. House Education and Labor Committee chairman Carl Perkins (D) of Massachusetts and Rules Committee chairman Richard Bolling (D) of Missouri that there will be floor votes "to reverse some of the worst cuts."
Already, key Republicans have joined with minority Democrats in the Senate to prevent much of what Reagan wants in consolidated block grants.
In what is seen as a significant setback for the President, Republican Sens. Lowell P. Weicker of Connecticut and Robert T. Stafford of Vermont sided with Democrats this week to force a compromise preserving health and education programs. The White House had wanted to fold them into block grants and reduce their funding.
The Legal Services Corporation -- an activist agency that funds "poverty lawyers" and that Reagan as governor of California particularly disliked -- was kept alive, although its annual funding would be reduced fro m $321 million to $ 100 million.