The tenuous bipartisan budget deal that Gov. Rendell and legislative leaders announced two weeks ago appeared to be in jeopardy tonight.

Democrats on a House committee voted to rewrite several controversial elements of the deal by hiking the proposed tax on casino table games and taxing cigars, smokeless tobacco, and natural-gas drilling, but not raffles at VFW halls or tickets to the performing arts.

The measure, approved on party lines, is a concession to rank-and-file House members who have been bombarded with protests in recent days by range of angry constituents, from firefighters to heads of philharmonics.

But Republicans in both chambers warned that the Democrats' move could send the budget agreement "down a path to implosion," as Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said tonight.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Jake Corman (R., Centre), said: "It's unfortunate that they're breaking away from the agreement."

The full House is expected to debate the Democrats' measure on Friday.

Like the budget deal announced Sept. 18, the new measure would legalize poker and other table games in slot parlors, but would tax them at 34 percent. Previous proposals called for tax rates in the teens or 20s.

"We have stood firm against big tobacco, firm against big casinos," said Rep. Bob Belfanti (D, Northumberland). "We're not going to allow the Senate to send us anything and tell us to accept 100 percent of it."

The House Democrats' move came only hours after a fellow Democrat - the governor - said he remained committed to the original deal, but added that to get the needed votes, changes might be needed. He characterized those changes as small.

"If the deal doesn't hold up, we have to look at ways to compromise," he said. ". . . Is this 'unraveling?' We'll see."

"We should stay here," Rendell said. "We should work hard. We should compromise. We should absorb the pain that comes from a difficult year," Rendell told reporters at an afternoon briefing. "No more excuses. No more going home."

He acknowledged that the deal he struck with legislative leaders two weeks ago was "meeting roadblocks."

Pileggi, the Senate majority leader, warned during the day that any significant changes would set budget negotiations "back to square one."

"The components of the agreement are the result of intense and lengthy negotiations it is obviously that you can not simply swap out one source of revenue for another," said Pileggi (R., Delaware).

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati equated it to haggling over a new auto.

"The last time I bought a car, I shook the car dealer's hand and I left. I came back and paid the price we agreed on," said Scarnati (R., Jefferson). "We have an agreement, and let's stick to it."

Since the tentative budget deal was announced, the $27.9 billion spending package has encountered sharp opposition from various interest groups and, most recently, from rank-and-file House Democrats who only this week learned of the finer details.

In particular, three elements have gummed up the works so far: the plan to impose the sales tax on tickets to plays, concerts, zoos and museums; a proposal to open more state lands to natural-gas drilling; and a new tax on raffles and other small games of chance run by fire halls and fraternal groups.

Over the last few days, more and more House Democrats have spoken out against those proposals and threatened to buck their leaders and vote against the overall package if it isn't changed.

The measure approved tonight in the House Rules Committee essentially swaps out the so-called arts tax and raffle tax for new levies on natual-gas drillers and smokeless tobacco and cigars.

Senate Republicans have said repeatedly that they cannot support the latter two taxes.

Rendell today also called on lawmakers to stay at the Capitol, "roll up their sleeves and be apart from their families" until a budget deal - already 94 days past due - is finalized.

"We should stay here. We should work hard. We should compromise. We should absorb the pain that comes from a difficult year," Rendell told reporters at an afternoon press briefing. "No more excuses. No more going home."

Since the tentative budget deal was announced on the night of Sept. 18, the $27.9 billion spending package has encountered sharp opposition from various interest groups and, most recently, from rank-and-file Democrats in the House who only this week learned of the finer details.

In particular, three elements have gummed up the works: the plan to impose the sales tax on tickets to plays, concerts, zoos, and museums; a proposal to open more state lands to natural-gas drilling; and a tax on raffles and other small games of chance run by fire halls and fraternal groups.

Over the last few days, more House Democrats have come out against those proposals, and threatened to buck their leaders and vote against the package if it isn't changed.

"All of the different revenue initiatives gore somebody's ox," said Rendell, who also sent a letter to every legislator underlining his message. "The members have to understand there is no such thing . . . as a pain-free budget."

The governor said he remained committed to the original deal but added that in order to get the needed votes, changes may have to be made. He characterized those changes as small.

"If the deal doesn't hold up, we have to look at ways to compromise," he said. "Is this unraveling? We'll see."

Even if changes are made, Rendell said, it would still be a deal, one "that morphs."

But any significant morphing would constitute a wholly new agreement and further delay a deal, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said soon after the governor spoke.

If that happens, Pileggi said today, "I think we are back to Square One."

He said, "The components of the agreement are the result of intense and lengthy negotiations. It is obvious that you cannot simply swap out one source of revenue for another."

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati equated it to haggling over a new auto.

"The last time I bought a car, I shook the car dealer's hand and I left. I came back and paid the price we agreed on. He didn't add more to it, and I didn't subtract anything off," Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said. "We have an agreement, and let's stick to it."

As for Rendell's call for lawmakers to stay in Harrisburg, the House has instructed members to remain on duty at the Capitol through at least tomorrow.

Senate Republicans, who control the upper chamber, were a little less emphatic. They put members on a "six-hour call," meaning they are not in session but must be ready to return to the Capitol in that amount of time if called upon.

In the meantime, a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that the tentative budget deal was not popular, with only 31 percent of 1,100 Pennsylvanians polled saying they approved of it.

Asked who was to blame for the impasse, more people said they believed it was Rendell (27 percent) than Republicans in the legislature (21 percent).

Rendell's popularity rating remained dismal - 42 percent said they approved of how he was handling his job. But that was a gain of 3 percent from the last survey, in July.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.