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US House inches its way toward final budget plan

Faced with a failing economy and the possibility of a $182 billion deficit, a coalition of House conservatives has patched together the makings of what could be a victory on the 1983 federal budget.

Amid doubts that anyone can write a budget to please a majority of House members, Republicans and their Democratic allies have arrived at a plan to win over conservatives while hanging onto moderates. The Democratic leadership has held out little hope for its own plan during this second effort at approving a budget in the House.

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The strategy for final passage now emerging is that Republicans are promising a deficit low enough to hold conservatives, while adding enough spending to keep moderates in line. And because the majority of the House is widely seen as conservative, this strategy appears to have the best chance of success.

The newest Republican budget projects a deficit of $99.2 billion, which is a cut far short of what some conservatives have called for, but less than the first Republican estimate of a $102.6 billion deficit.

However, the Republicans reduce the deficit at the expense of federal benefits targeted for the poor. The plan would freeze medicaid and food stamps at 1982 levels and making more cuts in welfare and nutrition programs.

House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts is scoring the Republicans for hurting ''America's poor.'' And the proposals are sure to draw fire from other liberals as well as moderates. However, the Republicans are reaching out to moderates with promises to keep a long list of so-called liberal spending items, from guaranteed student loans to federal aid to low-income school districts.

Also, Republicans are promising to restore some of the medicare cuts they had proposed earlier -- cuts that had been resoundingly disapproved by House members , who are keenly aware of the older-Americans lobby.

House Republicans would cut the deficit by dipping into defense for $350 million more in savings, holding military growth to 7 percent annual real growth (discounting for inflation). Taxes would be raised no higher than proposed by the party's earlier budget, a move that pleases conservatives.

While Republicans moved rightward, Democrats moved the opposite direction in their budget plan, adding $5 billion more in spending and tallying up a deficit of about $108 billion. They would add a grocery list of spending plans, ranging from high-technology job training to education aid and summer job programs for youth.

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Democrats would cut much deeper into defense, holding it to a 5 percent rate of annual growth; and they propose higher taxes that would almost certainly eliminate the 1983 10 percent income tax cut backed by President Reagan.

''I think these tax cuts were excessive, and most Americans think they were excessive,'' House Democratic majority leader Jim Wright of Texas told reporters June 8 over breakfast. He argued that most Americans believe in ''pay as you go, '' and would forgo the tax cut in favor of lowering the deficit.

While Speaker O'Neill denies that his party has written a budget that is designed to fail, he held out few hopes for the Democratic plan. Pointing to conservatives and moderates, he concedes, ''We couldn't bring them in with the Jones bill (the first Democratic budget which went down in defeat two weeks ago). How are we going to bring them in with this?''

According to one theory, the Democrats have opted to sit the budget issue out , allowing the Republicans to take the lead, and possibly the blame for the results. However, Democratic leaders vigorously deny that they have such a plan. It would be ''irresponsible,'' according to Congressman Wright.

Most important now, according to a growing number on Capitol Hill, is that the House pass some budget soon.

''Without the discipline of any budget process, the barn doors will be open, '' says House Budget Committee member Leon Panetta (D) of California. ''It's necessary to get a budget resolution through.''

The House budget must still go to conference with the Senate, which has already passed a budget resolution. Final passage of the budget was originally scheduled for May 15.

If the House fails in its second effort to pass a budget, it could either try a third time, or else abandon the budget process altogether, allowing individual congressional committees to set spending levels.

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