Reagan task: convince Congress that budget is seamless garment
Congress has gone home for Easter, leaving behind a welter of confusion as to where President Reagan's economic program now stands. Top White House aides, meanwhile, insist that the Reagan package should be adopted as a seamless whole, or the country will suffer dire economic consequences.
"This is a policy," stressed a high-ranking administration official, "a coherent policy, in which each part is linked to the others. If it's adopted piecemeal, we'll simply end up with more of the same."
By the "same," the official said, "I mean more of what we have had for the past few years -- high inflation, high unemployment, and slow economic growth."
Can the White House really expect adoption of the program as a whole, now that potilitical fractures are splintering Congress?
Partly that may depend on how quickly Mr. Reagan can turn his persuasive powers on the public and Congress through a nationwide address on the meaning of his program.
"We really miss our great communicator," said an administration official, acknowledging that some of the Reagan team's biggest guns -- including Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan and Budget Director David A. Stockman -- had failed to plug the dike.
Two events especially trouble White House planners:
* Defeat by the Senate Budget Committee of a budget proposal tailored to Reagan's liking, because of the defection of three Republican senators.
* Introduction by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee of a one-year tax cut plan, differing in scope and direction from the three-year program advanced by the White House.
Behind these events lie substantial doubts and disagreements, which may be hard even for the President to resolve.
On taxes, many Democrats believe that the personal income tax part of the President's program -- a 30 percent across-the-board cut over three years -- is skewed unfairly toward upper-income Americans.
They also say that Congress should not relinquish its control over taxes by legislating tax cuts three years into the future.
Thus, House Ways and Means chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois propose a one-year tax cut program, smaller than Reagan wants, and weighted toward the middle class -- persons earning between $20,000 and $50,000 yearly.
Reagan aides insist that the multiyear approach is essential, to give investors --individuals and corporations -- confidence in what they can expect in the way of taxes over the next three years.
A one-year tax cut, they argue, would not do the trick -- induce people to save and invest -- because they would be uncertain of what future years might bring.
Beyond this, White House officials believe that high-income people should have substantial tax cuts, if "real money" is to be shaken loose for reinvestment.
On the spending side, all had looked rosy for the White House in the Senate, because the Budget Committee -- followed by the full chamber -- had approved "spending cuts" for fiscal 1982 roughly as the President had sought. [Mr. Reagan would trim the 1982 budget to $695 billion, down from President Carter's proposal for $739 billion. Both proposasls are actually higher than the $663 billion projected for 1981.]
Then the Senate Budget Committee considered other aspects of the 1982 budget, including not only spending proposals, but also the level of taxes and the deficit.
In looking toward a balanced budget in 1984, Budget Director Stockman has said that $29 billion worth of additional spending cuts (below Carter projections) must be made in fiscal 1983, followed by another $44 billion in 1984.
The White House, however, has neither defined nor specified these cuts. This troubled three conservative Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee, who want more exact information on how the White House proposes to put the budget in the black.
They joined with Democrats to reject the White House blueprint for 1982 -- not because they oppose Reagan -- but because they want the committee to take a fresh look after the Easter recess.
More predictably, meanwhile, the House Budget Committee, run by Democrats, crafted a 1982 budget calling for a much smaller tax cut, plus restoration of some money for social programs.
There matters stand, as legislators scatter to hear what the folks back home think about the whole thing. Ideal, from the White House point of view, would be for the President to reassert to the nation the integrity of his whole economic approach, while Congr ess is at home to listen.