Reagan's first year; Press conference: few new directions; President Reagan at one-year mark: still popular, but growing doubts about his ability to deliver
In his first press conference of 1982, President Reagan gave few signals of new directions in crucial economic and foreign policy questions.
He indicated he will largely stand pat with last year's basic domestic priorities - protecting large defense outlays in the new budget, squeezing harder on domestic spending, and resisting major tax hikes.
In foreign policy, he did little to settle the growing dispute among his own supporters, between conservatives who want a more bold, even go-it-alone strategy abroad, and moderates who favor a more temperate approach to foreign affairs in concert with the allies.
His response on a question about the situation in Poland seemed to hold out something for both sides. He said the situation in Poland is ''deteriorating.'' ''We're not going to wait forever for improvement in the situation there,'' he said. ''We have other steps that we can take.'' He did not, however, specify the steps or post a timetable for action.
Mr. Reagan did seem to confirm at least one new feature of his 1982 domestic program however. The administration is considering a ''new federalism'' swap of programs, with the federal government taking over the full medicaid burden from the states, in exchange for a shift in welfare, education, transportation programs to the states. He said he hoped states would not lose revenue in the exchange.
But the President did not use the occasion to address key doubts and worries in economic circles about his deficit and inflation intentions.
''Does he think his package of cuts - to save money by transfering activities to states and localities - will be credible to the financial markets (as a deficit fighting device)?'' asks M. Carey Leahey, a Data Resources Inc. economist.
''Wall Street wants to see a delay in the administration's scheduled tax cuts , a reduction in the growth of defense spending - something like dropping the B- 1 bomber - since it does not think Reagan will be able to get Congress to cut domestic programs enough.''
Middle East issues, including Palestinian autonomy talks, still pose a tough problem for the administration. Mr. Reagan revealed that Secretary of State Alexander Haig will return to the region for another fact-finding visit, although no date has been set. The US wants to help in autonomy talks, said the Chief Executive, calling these talks the next step in the Camp David process.
The recent controversy over tax exempt status for private schools that discriminate on the basis of race inevitably came up in the press conference. The President was asked whether he was misled on this issue, and whether he was caught by surprise by the furor over the revocation of a Internal Revenue Service rule that denied tax exemption to such institutions.
''No one put anything over on us,'' the President shot back. ''The buck stops with me. I'm the originator of the whole thing.'' But he went on to admit that the whole affair hadn't been handled well.