A potential confrontation looms between President Reagan and Congress over what a senior White House official calls a "sleeper," in the budget process. The "sleeper," says Deputy Budget Director Edwin L. Harper, could "erode away" some of the $35.2 billion in savings that Mr. Reagan and the American people thought had been achieved in the 1982 budget.
Mr. Harper was referring to the fact that congressional committees are appropriating more money for specific programs that will fit under the roof nailed down by the 1982 budget.
The President has voiced his concern and White House officials speak of possible presidential vetoes of spending bills if Congress ends up breaking the budget.
also concerned are the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees -- Rep. James R. Jones (D) of Oklahoma and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R) of New Mexico -- both of whom, said a congressional source, "take the budget seriously."
Politically, in other words, some powerful figures -- Reagan and Messrs. Domenici, Jones, and others committed to making the budget process work -- deplore spendiing overruns. Yet they are happening.
Already the House, according to a senior White House official, is $2.7 billion over the agreed-upon 1982 spending figures, with a number of appropriations measures still to be considered.
It works like this:
Congress, through the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981 adopted July 31, gave Mr. Reagan what he wanted -- $35.2 billion worth of spending cuts in the 1982 budget.
Because many government programs involve multiyear commitments, the savings would increase in future years, yielding $130.6 billion in cuts over the 1982-84 period.
A part of these savings are in "entitlement" programs -- transfers of money to Americans who qualify for help because of age (social security, for example), disability, income level, or other reasons.
Congress changed the eligibility rules on some of these programs, to yield $ 13.4 billion in fiscal 1982 savings and $43.8 billion over three years. These savings are automatic and require no further congressional action.
That leaves nonentitlement programs, for which $21.8 billion in spending was cut. The Reconciliation Act did this by reducing "authority" for actual outlays.
Then comes the next step -- appropriations. Each congressional committee appropriates money for programs within its purview. These should add up to no more than the authorized amounts.