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Liberals likely to yield budget ground again

President Reagan seems poised to win yet another budget victory. The President forced a standoff a few weeks ago when a continuing budget resolution - an interim measure to tide the government over at current spending levels until Congress finishes action on the fiscal 1982 budget - expired.

Congress passed a second continuing resolution that included some of the cuts asked for by the President. But Mr. Reagan vetoed it because it still would have allowed the government to spend more money than the President thought prudent. His veto briefly shut down the government. At the same time, the President asked Congress to extend the first, expired continuing resolution.

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In that standoff, the Democrats blinked. They acceded to Reagan's request, extending the expired resolution until Dec. 15. As that deadline approaches, and with it the possibility of another standoff, Democrats are blinking again.

House Democratic leader Jim Wright of Texas now indicates the Democrats may well give the President about half of the $8.5 billion in new spending cuts he requested earlier this year. The cuts will appear in another continuing resolution that, if signed by Reagan, will take effect Dec. 15.

This concession gives Reagan the negotiating edge even before the showdown, which may come late this week.

In working out a new spending-cut package with the Republican leadership, the President apparently has been able to put together his winning GOP-conservative Democratic coalition once again. The Democrats who move to his side in such battles are expected to still like the sound of $4 billion more in spending trims.

At the same time, GOP moderates in Congress, whose unanimous backing Reagan needs to win, are apparently satisfied by sweeteners in the package: the hands-off from further cuts in all benefit programs, $400 million more budgeted for welfare and health programs, and $1.7 billion more for low-income energy assistance.

Critics say that Congressman Wright and some other Democratic liberals in Congress once again are showing a lack of backbone.

But some obsevers point out that these Democrats are also conceding to political reality - that if Reagan is able to pull this coalition together, they have little choice but to give ground.

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Political observers also note that liberal Democrats still lack an alternative to Reagan's program. The liberals appear to be clinging to their chief political hope: letting the President have his way so that if his program fails, the voters will readily notice who is to blame.

''It was a gross error for the President to allow government to shut down,'' says Wright. ''It is the responsibility of Congress to prevent this, even if by so doing we give the false impression of giving in.''

The Democrats also acknowledge that for the short time the layoffs lasted, the President's action gave the American people the impression that he was acting in their best interest. While those laid off were less than amused, it appeared that people generally saw it as evidence that the President was fighting for them against obstructionists in Congress.

Congressional liberals do not want any more of that, even though they say they think if a layoff were protracted Reagan would be the political loser. But they are not about to test that theory.

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