Democratic congressional leaders will probably try to delay severe cuts in federal spending beyond the Oct. 1 Gramm-Rudman deadline while budget negotiations continue, officials said Friday.
But Republicans said they might oppose the effort in an attempt to leave the bargainers under intensifying pressure to work out a $500 billion, five-year package to cut the deficit.Under the plan, Democrats are likely to pursue, Congress would consider legislation next week postponing the Gramm-Rudman spending slashes until Oct. 20, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The measure would finance the government through that date at levels no higher than current spending.
That package would probably include about $2 billion to cover some of the expenses of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, the officials said. Placing those funds in the measure would make it difficult for many lawmakers to vote against it.
At the White House, meanwhile, President Bush said he would take no stand on a suggestion by Senate Republican leader Bob Dole that Bush's capital gains tax cut proposal be considered separately from a deficit-reduction package.
"We're down to the wire . . . " Bush said. "I'm not endorsing the Dole suggestion, nor would it be appropriate for me to criticize it."
The proposal to delay the Gramm-Rudman deadline is becoming the focus of planning for congressional leaders because the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. A yearlong budget stalemate between the Bush administration and Congress has resulted in the enactment of none of the legislation needed to pay for government operations next year.
Unless some money is provided, the government will have no funds to spend come Oct. 1 - but there is little doubt Congress will provide money in time.
More importantly, on that same day the Gramm-Rudman law will automatically reduce the $1.2 trillion federal budget by $85 billion - an amount deep enough to cripple most agencies - unless there is a deficit-cutting agreement.
Congressional leaders and White House officials met in the Capitol for a fourth straight day Friday in an effort to reach a budget compromise. The bargainers planned to meet again Sunday evening.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley told reporters Friday that leaders had yet to decide how to handle the fiscal problem.
"We haven't made any decision," said Foley, a Washington Democrat.
But officials said the plan to postpone the fiscal emergency until Oct. 20 was the strategy the leaders would most likely choose.
Republicans would probably oppose that legislation unless budget negotiators had worked out a deal and Congress simply needed extra time to enact it, said Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn. Leaving the Gramm-Rudman cuts in place would prod the bargainers to quickly reach an agreement, he said.
"Negotiations have backed up without coming to a conclusion for five months," said Frenzel, who is one of the budget bargainers.