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Miller Says Law on Deficit Helps Budget Chances

January 20, 1986|DON IRWIN | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Budget Director James C. Miller III predicted Sunday that when Congress reconvenes Tuesday it will be "much more inclined to go along" with the 1987 budget President Reagan will submit next month because the alternative will be drastic slashes mandated by the Gramm-Rudman law.

After Miller advanced the Administration's case on NBC's televised "Meet the Press," his view was seconded by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), a co-author of the deficit-reduction measure.

Gramm, also a guest on the show, argued that Congress will accept the "nucleus" of Reagan's budget, which is expected to hold the deficit within the $144-billion limit set by the Gramm-Rudman legislation, with higher defense spending balanced by deep cuts in most domestic programs.

'Responsible' Controls

Gramm predicted that Congress will adopt such "responsible" spending controls rather than accept the "automatic across-the-board reduction in all kinds of sacred cow programs" specified by the Gramm-Rudman Act if a budget that exceeds the deficit limit is adopted.

But Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N. Y.), one of 21 Democrats who voted against Gramm-Rudman, said he feared that Congress will "move to the automatic sequester process," under which equal percentage cuts would apply across the board, including the Defense Department. He added that "it's not my idea of government," because "to govern is to choose."

Miller challenged a reporter's suggestion that Congress will not go along with Reagan's announced intention to seek defense appropriations that equal "inflation plus 3%." He predicted that the White House is "going to articulate that position very strongly."

Stockman Prediction

The budget director dissented from a prediction by David A. Stockman, his predecessor, that taxes will have to be raised by $100 billion a year to deal with the deficit, observing: "The difference between the situation that David (Stockman) faced and the one that we're facing now is that there's a law (Gramm-Rudman)."

When asked if Congress might not prefer a tax increase to the "Draconian cuts" that seem inevitable if the Gramm-Rudman formula is invoked, Miller called the matter "altogether premature" and refused to speculate "because we want the President's budget enacted."

When a questioner suggested that he was leaving the door open for a tax increase next year if Reagan loses the budget fight, Miller replied that "the President rejects a tax increase." But he went on to cite news conference comments last week in which Reagan said that, if there is still a need for revenue after the present deficit reduction effort ends, he would consider asking for a tax boost.

The vigor of the budget battle that is expected once Congress gets back to business was suggested by a snappish exchange that followed an observation by Gramm that "all of the Democrats who have not supported the President on defense are saying: My God, Gramm-Rudman is going to decimate defense."

"I'm not going to allow my voting record to be misrepresented," exploded Moynihan, who was elected to the Senate in 1976. "You're one year in the Senate, fella, and you don't do that to another senator. I've voted with one exception for every defense appropriation bill that's come to the Senate, and, this year, under Gramm-Rudman, for the first time in 15 years, the dollar amount for defense spending is going down . . . under your bill."

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