Bowing to congressional pressure for legislation to ease unemployment, President Reagan Tuesday endorsed a bipartisan plan for a 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax to finance repair of the nation's roads and bridges.
While trying to keep his distance from anything akin to a make-work program, Mr. Reagan nevertheless said he has decided ''we should move forward'' with the program which would create 300,000 jobs.
But in a bid to head off any more aggressive job-creating action by Congress, the administration is preparing its own proposal to reduce the 10.4 percent jobless rate by channeling unemployment-compensation funds through corporate employers. It is one of a ''series of other measures which would give our economy a fresh boost as we move into '83.''
Under this plan, suggested by Treasury Secretary Donald Regan Tuesday, a company hiring an unemployed worker would receive a voucher for the amount of his remaining jobless benefits. Thus the company would be able to reduce its cost of hiring a worker, presumably encouraging it to boost its roll of employees. In part, the effect would be to reduce the $3.35 minimum wage for participating companies.
''We have to attack (high unemployment) for humanitarian reasons,'' Mr. Regan said. He noted the unemployment compensation proposal has not been approved by the President and won't be offered until the new Congress convenes in January.
Even though the proposal is designed to reduce exceptionally high unemployment among teen-agers and those who worked in factories that have closed , organized labor opposes the plan. ''It is corporate welfarism. It is an attempt to have the federal government take on part of the payroll,'' says AFL-CIO official Rex Hardesty.