Stockman as star -- or meteor
The line outside No. 6202 Dirksen Office Building is a block long. It is like a crowd waiting for a Hollywood star.In five minutes David A. Stockman, youthful director of the Office of the Budget will testify. He is the most startling phenomenon the new Reagan administration has produced: the one who is justifying all these budget cuts, making reports to Congress and the nation, explaining things on radio and television. I count the TV cameras set up for him now: there are eight with their crews -- like machine guns bristling on tripods. He is the hottest target in town.
Senators enter and he mingles briefly with them, a slim figure with very large-rim glasses. There is the conventional moment of jollity and exclamation before he takes the witness seat looking up at the row of senators in a horse show above him to read his opening statement. Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R) of New Mexico says there will be a "five- minute rule" (cutting it from the usual 10 minutes per senator); the object is to give everyone a chance at the star and the television. They will have a second round, maybe, later on. (He does not say so, but Mr. Stockman is booked to testify shortly before the House Budget Committee, and later the Joint Economic Committee; everybody wants him -- just yesterday he and Treasury Secretary Donald Regan and Chairman Murray Weidenbaum of the Council of Economic Advisers held a big joint press conference. He sat in the middle with the 20-foot amphitheater purple curtains behind him and got most of the reporters' questions, and dominated the hour- long affair.)
He is 34 and works 20 hours a day. Or maybe he works 24 hours. How else could he do it? He is telling Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R) of Kansas now that he is sorry the spending cuts did not go further; he had only "three and a half weeks" to get a package together. "We may have missed something." He had to master the budget, in other words -- the mere synopsis of which is the size of a telephone book. He is the youngest person to hold cabinet rank for maybe a century and a half; let's see, Alexander Hamilton was secretary of the Treasury in George Washington's first cabinet: that was 1789 and he was 34, too.
Mr. Stockman has an aquiline face, rather small mouth, an academic look, and a touch of humor. His thick brown hair has a lock across his forehead and is worn so long that just the earlobes show. He does not gesticulate, his arms are crossed, and his hands rest on the table. The thing that you note is his full control, the way he tends to dominate the scene. He does not bully, is not abrasive or argumentative: he just has the answers. How can one head hold so much?
Another thing to note is that he does not alienate the questioners, even when they disagree with him. It is always a question of fact, not personality. A senator charges that one figure is "1,000 percent wrong"; there is no outburst, no evasion; there is a torrent of explanation as witness agrees to check that particular statistic.
Mr. Stockman smiles at one point. He is not awed by the senators, he treats them as equals; after all he was a congressman himself for two terms. There's his record in last term's Congressional Directory: David Alan Stockman, Republican of St. Joseph, Michigan, graduated Lakeshore High School 1964; BA history, Michigan State University; graduate work, Harvard Divinity School 1968- 70; fellow Harvard Institute of Politics 1974- 75, served as congressional staff aide for US Representative John Anderson 1970-72 (yes, that's the presidential candidate John Anderson), and then elected to Congress in 1976. He explains to them now, smiling at the irony, that in the House "I tried and tried in vain to get on the Budget Committee." Now he runs the budget.
The feeling you get is that here is a true believer, a man who can make "supply-side economics" sit up and beg if anybody can; one who is still flexible and with an extraordinary grasp of detail. There is not a trace of self-consciousness. He says, "We are facing a rather urgent crisis." Social programs, he wrote in an article "The Social Porkbarrel" which appeared in 1975 in a conservative journal, have acquired a constituency that uses the same coalition tactics as the military-industrial complex. That's his message; that's what he's out to change. His sharp profile is quite striking as you look at it while he testifies, sharp eyes, sharp nose, sharp features. Where will he be a year from now? Is he a meteor or a star?