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Act now on a budget compromise

At last count, there were some five or six ''plans'' for the 1983 fiscal year budget floating around the halls of Washington, including the official White House budget submitted Feb. 8. Count in the many variations on each proposal, and the number of alternatives starts to swell considerably. All of this might be mildly amusing but for the fact that, as Wall Street economist Henry Kaufman comments, the danger of a budget impasse could contribute to added uncertainty on the part of financial markets, lead to higher interest rates, and result in a ''lower level of economic activity.'' Obviously, any inaction that could work against recovery must be avoided.

It is imperative that all parties pull together for the public well-being and reach agreement on a budget compromise. To delay for reasons of political gain would be inexcusable, and one suspects, quickly seen as such by the American people. One cannot but deplore such recent statements as the one made by House speaker Tip O'Neill that there was ''no chance in the world'' for social security revisions unless the President first proposed them. ''The onus,'' said Mr. O'Neill, ''is not going to be on the Democrats.''

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The key to a reasonable compromise, most analysts agree, lies with the Senate Republicans. But what suggests that an acceptable package can be reached is the fact that a bipartisan group of Senate leaders agreed this week that all parts of the budget must be open to negotiation and compromise, including:

* Defense spending. Even such staunch prodefense lawmakers as Robert Dole and Henry Jackson, spanning both sides of the political isle, have suggested that defense can be reasonably trimmed without endangering the nation's safety or an acceptable level of arms buildup. President Reagan has shown no inclination to compromise on his $263 billion military proposal. But surely the White House will accept that the nation's economic well-being is the bedrock of its strength and therefore must take priority.

* Tax cuts. The 45 Senate Democrats unanimously recommended that the third year of the 1981 individual income tax cut be deferred. Mr. Reagan has ruled out that step. But as Senator Dole has noted, ''there are 20 things you can do'' to retain the cut in principle while modifying it, such as deferring its enactment by three months.

* Benefit programs. Mr. Reagan says that he will not consider changes in social security programs. Speaker O'Neill says the President must first make such proposals. But four house Democrats have already proposed such changes that would, among other things, give social security recipients (and recipients of other federal benefit programs) only 75 percent of their cost-of-living increases in fiscal 1983.

In other words, the possibilities for compromise exist and the overriding national priority now is for some quiet give-and-take by all sides. Rather than being perceived as a sign of weakness, compromise would be welcomed by the American people, and most certainly by financial market investors as eager as everyone for a lifting of recession.

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