After you, Alphonse!
The old Alphonse-and-Gaston routine is not good enough for preparing the world's biggest national budget. Yet this mutual you-go-first stage of fiscal compromise has now been reached by the White House and Congress, according to Senate majority leader Howard Baker. And, considering the circumstances, it looks like progress!
Indeed, it can actually become progress if the administration's new public display of conciliation is matched by deeds in the negotiating room - and by the same on the congressional side. Then it is just possible the result could be something for which both sides would want credit. As it is, the presumption seems to be that the result will be so bad that each side will want to escape full blame. Thus all the jockeying not to go through the door first but, as Mr. Baker suggested, together.
On the same day this week President Reagan said he was ''prepared to go the extra mile, '' and Defense Secretary Weinberger said the sacrosanct military buildup might be cut after all. This was compromising not only with Congress but with fiscal reality.
Speaker O'Neill welcomed the presidential recognition that change was necessary but said he had no indication of what Mr. Reagan's extra mile would be. Evidently congressional leaders, and not only Democrats, want to be sure the President would take enough leadership on a revised budget package to place himself out there on the limb with them.
Why should all sides fear such political consequences from their expected handiwork? Because their goal is to reduce the deficit, and they imagine voters stung by both the hikes in taxes and cuts in expenditures being contemplated to do the job.
Yet Americans are wise enough to see that they will have to share the cost if they are to share the benefit of a reduced deficit. They want fairness and efficiency in the effort. They don't want to see politicians pusillanimously maneuvering to spread the blame for inequity and inefficiency. They want to see leaders seize on honorable solutions and carry them forward.
* Taxes. Here there can be disagreement over the effects of President Reagan's across-the-board tax cuts. But, if he can bring in offsetting revenues through equitable other means, he might be allowed the cornerstone of his program. Everyone ought to be able to get behind what he called ''correcting unjustified tax breaks'' the other day. His list might not be the same as the Democrats'. But this is where compromise could pay off to the tune of tens of billions without raising taxes for voters in general.
* Expenditures. The proposed freeze in nonmilitary spending levels could be sold to voters in combination with the kind of judicious cuts in military spending growth that are gaining currency among both Republicans and Democrats.
This week, for example, came estimates by William Kaufmann of MIT, an author of many previous ''posture statements'' on military need for the Pentagon. By carefully identifying US defense purposes and matching them with resources, he sees a Pentagon budget $32 billion less than Mr. Reagan's. It is something for Mr. Weinberger to consult if he is serious about the possibility of fiscal trimming.
In short, there are ways to consider revising the budget that would not necessarily be disastrous at the polls. Ways that Alphonse just might like to bear aloft through the door ahead of Gaston.