White House and Congressional budget negotiators stared their 800-pound gorilla in the face Monday and did not even blink once--before backing off. The foe was Godzilla and King Kong in one: the nation's program of entitlement payments indexed for inflation so that they grow forever unless Congress and the President finally find the courage to bring them in check.
In 16 meetings, the negotiators had come within $2 billion of putting together a deficit-reduction package of roughly $30 billion, consisting of about $10 billion in new revenues, $5 billion in defense cuts, $10 billion in domestic spending cuts and several billion in miscellaneous savings, partly from gimmicks that would produce savings for one year only. The final gap could be closed by eliminating for three months the cost-of-living increases (COLAs) in entitlement programs including Social Security and federal employee retirement.
The lobby in behalf of Social Security recipients is one of the most potent in the country. It cranked up over the weekend and clearly was making itself felt in Washington Monday. It did not help, of course, that President Reagan earlier declared that he would consider any means of reducing the deficit by $23 billion or more during the negotiations except for Social Security.