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Budgent cuts -- smoothing the way on Capital Hill

The capital is filled with eager budget- cutters these days. President Reagan traveled back to Capitol Hill Feb. 4 on a mission to soften up the legislators for major budget trims he plans to propose at mid-month.

he found Congress already had been primed. Getting a jump on the President, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had spelled out its ideas for 105 ways to put federal spending on a crash diet.

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The President -- like Congress -- is guarding his flanks as budget-cutting time draws nearer. White House press secretary Jim Brady defended the reductions, explaining they will "weed out the greedy to help the needy."

Earlier, Mr. Reagan told prominent black supporters that the poorest Americans won't be made to suffer by the coming budget proposals.

As Reagan aides put the final touches on the revised 1981 fiscal year budget, the CBO released its 217-page report on trimming the federal costs.

The do-it-yourself catalog for aspiring budget-cutters proffers both big-ticket cutbacks as well as corner-cutting ideas.

A major area for reduction: rejigging the formula for social security cost-of-living increases.

A smaller item: selling off the government's stockpile of surplus silver.

Pecisely how much money would be saved if all the suggestions were adopted cannot be estimated. Some are offered as alternatives to others, while a few would send hard-to-calculate fiscal reverberations through the entire budget.

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But 11 individual suggestions would each achieve $1 billion or more.

The budget office, a nonpartisan analytical arm of Congress, lists the items without recommendation, merely as "illustrative examples." They are "by no means exhaustive," the report notes. "Many others could be added."

The President plans to send Congress his own recommendations for cutting the current 1981 and forthcoming 1982 budgets, both left him by his predecessor, on Feb. 18.

An inkling of his ideas was expected to be given to congressional leaders at the meeting with 13 of them Feb. 4 in the ornate President's Room of the Capitol , just a few paces off the Senate floor.

The largest cluster of potential savings cited by the CBO arises through changes in the social security system, some of which Reagan reportedly is considering.

These include delaying the annual cost- of-living increase in social security benefits from July 1 to Oct. 1 to reflect a similar change in the start of the government's fiscal year (estimated savings: $3.l billion in the coming budgetary year), and several other billion-dollar refinements in the indexing formula.

The President has vowed, however, that his recommendations will result in no reduction in social security benefits to the elderly this year.

The biggest single economy measure pinpointed by the Capitol Hill budget analysts is a noval one that Reagan has given no sign of considering: financing the nation's strategic petroleum reserve through private funds.

The idea is to underwrite the cost of filling the emergency oil stockpile by selling shares to investors, on the theory that the cache is bound to rise in value in coming years. Taxpayers would save an estimated $4.1 billion next year alone.

A few of the more ambitious suggestions are dusted off and resubmitted after being rejected by Congress last year. Among them: discarding postal subsidies (saving $1.7 billion in fiscal 1982), and adjusting federal pensions for inflation annually instead of semiannually ($3.6 billion).

At the lower end of the list, in terms of money to be saved, lies a budgetary grab bag of ideas to shave a few million dollars here and there. Examples:

* Forcing the military services to team up jointly in more of their recruitment advertising (saving $15 million a year).

* Scratching one of the four planned space shuttle orbiters ($147 million).

* Cutting funding for Amtrak by dropping 40 percent of its routes ($200 million), and phasing out money for Conrail ($250 million starting in fiscal 1983).

* Ending social security benefits for college students who are dependents of retired deceased, or disabled workers ($650 million).

* Selling the government's excess strategic inventory of si lver ingots ($229 million).

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