Elections cast long shadow over budget
Drawing up a federal budget is never easy since it usually means saying no to somebody. But this year's effort has been something akin to forcing a person who despises jogging to run a marathon.
As the House finally reaches the finish line this week with its budget, it is clear that what has made the task so difficult is that only a few months from now its members face elections. Virtually every issue has been charged with politics.
In one congressional office an aide of Rep. Robert H. Michel frowns as he pores over a news clipping just arrived from Peoria, Ill. The headline reads, ''Michel budget would hurt elderly, two groups charge.''
A group of senior citizens had carried placards into the district office of Michel, House Republican leader from Illinois, to protest a Republican proposal to save $4.85 billion in in medicare costs in 1983.
''They did it on social security, and now they're doing it on medicare,'' says the Republican aide. ''It's totally politicized,'' he adds only hours before the full House voted to put the funds back into the Republican budget. What's more, he complains, the broadcast media give the Democrats ''a huge platform.''
A Democratic leadership aide, meanwhile, sees the Republicans holding the advantage. ''It's hard when you're up against the great communicator President, '' he says, pointing to President Reagan's ''table-thumping'' criticism earlier this week of House Democratic Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. of Massachusetts.
Sure, there has been ''a little bit of screaming'' over social security, concedes the Democratic aide, but ''you need to make your case forcefully to get it in print. We're trying to get our case out to the public.''
Coming from opposite sides, the two views explain much of the chaos surrounding the budget debate on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers on the floor of the House speak of the need to approve a budget and ''give the financial markets a signal,'' but most of the signals appear to be aimed at voters instead of Wall Street.
Not only did the House offer members seven different budget schemes to choose from, but they also have had 68 possible amendments to those proposals to debate.
The result is there has been something for almost every member, even if no plan could muster a majority. The most determined conservatives could vote for a plan that promised to balance the budget with drastic cuts in spending. Committed liberals could vote for the Congressional Black Caucus plan to take billions out of defense and spend more on domestic programs.
After dozens of votes, on which members can build a record suitable for a November campaign, the House turned to the task of finding enough members in the broad center to pass a budget. That final version, regardless of its exact form , will almost certainly make some spending cuts, some tax hikes, and project a $ 110 billion deficit next year, slightly less than the Senate-passed version.
The drawn-out fight in the House has highlighted the differences between Republicans and Democrats, even if the exact figures in their proposals came close together as each group reached out to moderates. ''These amounts you're talking about are significant,'' says Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin, who has helped gather a budget coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans.