WASHINGTON — White House Budget Director James C. Miller III on Wednesday announced $11.7 billion in spending cuts triggered by the Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing law and claimed that they can be carried out "with a minimum of disruption," but agency officials said the rigid retrenchment would impose serious hardships on some important government activities.
The federal deficit would hit a record $220.5 billion this year without spending cuts, Administration and congressional budget officials concluded. Their estimate set into motion the Gramm-Rudman Act's process of automatically trimming thousands of government operations as of March 1.
Unless Congress intervenes, the cuts will reduce defense spending by about $5.4 billion and domestic programs by $5.3 billion. An additional $1 billion already has been saved by eliminating cost-of-living increases in pensions for federal civilian and military retirees.
Miller, dismissing bureaucratic fears of crucial disruptions in government activities as nothing more than perennial threats "like closing the Washington Monument or draining the Tidal Basin," said that the first round of spending cuts should not require much more than a hiring freeze in most government departments and limits on travel and other such activities.
But Administration officials acknowledged that even the relatively modest cuts could mean shorter hours at some national parks, higher fees for student loans, fewer meat inspectors, possible early release of federal prisoners and smaller crop support payments for farmers.
Congress exempted some domestic programs from the Gramm-Rudman cuts and the Reagan Administration shielded some military accounts. More than $200 billion in Social Security payments will not be affected, and Medicare and other health-care benefit programs may not be reduced by more than 1%. In addition, Congress protected several welfare and veterans' programs from cuts, but few other government operations are to be spared the budget knife.
This first modest step toward the Gramm-Rudman Act's ultimate goal--a balanced budget by 1991--will reduce all unprotected domestic programs by 4.3% and all unshielded defense programs by 4.9%. The cuts leave the estimated 1986 deficit near $210 billion, barely below last year's record of $212 billion.
The reductions, detailed in a 416-page document prepared by the President's Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, cover a huge array of government activities. They range in size from a $2.6-billion reduction in new commitments for federally guaranteed housing loans to a $1,000 reduction for an ammunition-loading yard at the Army's Red River Depot in Texas.
The first round of cuts provides only a modest hint of what is to come later this year unless Congress and the White House can agree on a budget that would slash the deficit for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 close to the $144-billion target mandated by Gramm-Rudman.
Administration officials said that the White House is preparing a budget plan for fiscal 1987, scheduled to be released early next month, that will propose deep spending cuts and other savings totaling about $54 billion to meet the $144-billion target.
Law Being Challenged
The new law, sponsored by Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), sets a series of descending deficit targets designed to yield a balanced budget in six years. It is being challenged in federal court on constitutional grounds, but no final ruling is expected until later this year.
Secret Service spokesman Robert R. Snow, calling the cuts "a tough bite," said that they would not mean reduced protection for the President and visiting heads of state but could significantly restrict field investigations and special training. "We're looking at a hiring freeze . . . " he said. "Furloughs would be a last resort."
At the Justice Department, officials are weighing proposals to release some federal prisoners early and to limit paid workdays for some employees at the Bureau of Prisons. Also under consideration, according to a department official who insisted on anonymity, is a proposal that lawyers in the Criminal Division take two weeks off without pay.
However, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said that the department would continue to "handle priority criminal matters so as to not in any way vitiate the protection of the public."
Metro Rail Funds
The impact on federal funds for the long-planned Los Angeles Metro Rail system remained unclear, officials said. The Los Angeles proposal is one of a group of mass transit projects that will be cut by 4.3% overall, according to Bonnie Whyte of the Urban Mass Transit Administration, but the cuts probably will fall unevenly among the projects. And Miller warned that the White House might withhold some funds for new mass transit projects unless Congress has specifically ordered the Administration to spend the money.