GOP smells budget victory, but Democrat's undaunted
The largely unnoticed story here is that President Reagan is well on his way toward getting most of his economic package -- no matter how his battle with House Democrats over budget cuts turns out.
"It's not whether we are going to win or not," a key presidential aide says, "but to what degree are we going to win." He adds:
"When we were sitting here at inaugural time we had no idea that we could have gotten all of this. Now the President will get 85 to 90 percent of what he originally wanted. And if we win reconciliation on the spending cuts, plus three years on our tax cut, we will get almost all of it."
At a breakfast with reporters June 25, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R) of Nevada was asked if the current fight over spending cuts was obscuring the fact Mr. Reagan is getting pretty much what he asked for in his overall economic package.
"Yes," the senator replied, adding that of course they were still hoping to get more.
The President's advantage over his congressional adversaries seems clear:
* He has the Democrats conversing among themselves on the degree of the tax cut. That's putting the dialogue where Reagan wants it.
* He has the Democrats conceding 85 to 90 percent of his spending cuts. That is seen as by the administration as an incredible amount of success since Inaugural Day.
On Capitol Hill there is some evidence of the Democratic liberals fighting back.
But these Democrats are mainly trying to moderate, not eliminate, Reagan-supported cuts in social programs -- social security, school-lunch subsidies, food stamps, guaranteed student loans, and cost-of-living raises for federal employees.
That is, the House leadership strategy to bring up the new budget cuts in piecemeal fashion rather than have a single, up-or-down vote is aimed at reducing the size of the Reagan victory on spending cuts, not at taking the victory away from the President.
Already, House Democrats concede, the Reagan thrust on the economy has been established. The final votes will only determine the degree of the President's triumph.
Thus, as perceived both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, House liberals are engaged in a last-gasp effort to save their programs.
Should some of the President's cuts be blunted, Reagan still holds a weapon, one which a White House assistant says he will not hesitate to use: vetoing appropriations for some of the programs he wants cut back.
"Don't forget how often Reagan used the veto when he was governor," this informant says.
Democrats on the Hill have gained some encouragement from recent polls which indicate that many Americans are beginning to turn away from support for Reagan's economic programs.
Senator Laxalt concedes this. "The polls," he says, "tell that we have an activist President. His strong positions alienate large blocs of people.
"But," he adds, "there is still strong support out there for what the President generally is trying to do."
Capitol Hill-watchers say Congress as a whole still regards Reagan as a most-formidable force and:
1. Views the President as popular enough to maintain his initiative.
2. Feels that liberal Democrats are on the defensive.
3. Concludes that Reagan is well-positioned to put almos t all of his economic program into place.