WASHINGTON -- The fast-paced Republican timetable for passage of the party's conservative revolution encountered its first major delay yesterday as House GOP leaders abandoned their promise to move for massive spending cuts by the end of January.
Slippage of the central element of the Republican agenda might jeopardize the 100-day timetable for the House Republican "Contract with America." House leaders acknowledged that they are having more trouble identifying and agreeing upon the $200 billion in spending cuts needed to finance the contract than they had anticipated, marking the first serious setback for the newly powerful Republicans.
The delay is also significant because Republican leaders have vowed not to pass the tax cuts that are at the heart of the contract until they have first enacted the spending cuts needed to pay for them.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas insisted that the contract is not in trouble, but acknowledged that the smooth "glide path" toward a balanced budget that they envisioned as recently as two weeks ago is turning into a much tougher ride.
House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, who last week outlined the leadership's swift schedule for taking action by the end of January, also acknowledged yesterday that he won't be able to meet an April 15 deadline for issuing a second, broader list of spending cuts detailing how Republicans plan to comply with a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Republican leadership sources said the delays have come as senior House committee chairmen have begun to resist the sweeping nature of many of their party's budget-cutting proposals.
Mr. Kasich, an Ohio Republican who has been designated by Mr. Gingrich to come up with the tough medicine of spending reductions needed to finance the GOP agenda, has found resistance among other new committee chairmen. The chairmen have been stunned to learn that, just as they are gaining new power for the first time in decades, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Gingrich are proposing to thoroughly gut the programs under their jurisdiction.
"You are seeing the natural friction between appropriators and budgeteers that always develops in Congress when you are talking about cutting spending -- you even see it among Republicans," observed one senior House Republican staff member.
Some House committee chairmen also pushed successfully to get Mr. Kasich and Mr. Gingrich to delay their spending proposals until after President Clinton unveils the administration's budget Feb. 6, Republican sources said. Originally, Mr. Kasich hoped to steal the spotlight from Mr. Clinton's budget by issuing his blueprint first, but other Republicans apparently want to see the direction of the Clinton plan before agreeing to Mr. Kasich's far deeper cuts.
"Look, this is really hard work and there are a lot of pieces we're not going to get right the first time," Mr. Gingrich acknowledged.
Still, GOP leaders vowed that they should still be able to maintain the 100-day timetable for their contract.