President Bush, back on the road championing his $1.16 trillion spending plan, said Friday he will personally participate in high-level budget talks next week and share responsibility with Congress for difficult spending cuts.
Bush said he had invited House and Senate leaders to the White House next Tuesday, the day before he leaves on a five-day Far East trip, for a round of talks to speed a budget accord."Together, we've got to make the budget process work," Bush told students at Washington University here.
Next week's meeting appeared designed to blunt Democratic criticism that Bush's budget enabled him to take credit for proposing expanded social programs, while leaving Congress with the unpopular job of finding ways to pay for them through cuts in other areas.
Budget analysts say the spending plan Bush unveiled last week, while calling for restraints in defense spending but new initiatives in education, housing, child-care and environmental cleanup, falls about $9.6 billion to $11 billion short of meeting the deficit targets he set forth.
"I am committed to working closely with my friends on the Hill to help them meet the target date set by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law for an April 15th budget resolution," Bush said.
That law, which requires a balanced budget by 1993, calls for a deficit in the fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1 of no more than $100 billion - down from an estimated $160 billion this year. Failure of Congress to meet the targets can result in across-the-board cuts in military as well as civilian programs.
Direct involvement by a president this early in the budget process is rare. However, Bush has promised all along to work closely with the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The president told his audience that he had called the top congressional leaders to attend: House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas; House Republican Leader Robert Michel of Illinois; House Democratic Leader Thomas Foley of Washington; Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine; and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.
Bush, as he has done this week in two other out-of-Washington appearances, outlined the highlights of his budget plan, calling it "responsive and responsible" and "fair-minded in its strategy."
On Thursday, Bush rejected the notion that he had been deliberately vague in the budget to put the onus on Congress alone for coming up with unpopular spending cuts.
"Yes, there's a lot more detail that has to be hammered out. It's a two-way street," Bush said in an Oval Office interview with a group of reporters.