Both sides jockey--to avoid the blame
Suddenly, many Democrats and Republicans in the nation's capital are consumed with a cause. Put simply, it is to avoid taking the blame for the breakdown of negotiations on the federal budget.
The President is now taking his budget case directly to the American people. His thesis: that if he is to fulfill the mission the voters assigned him in 1980 , the public must rally to his side once again.
But Democrats on Capitol Hill will hardly stand still and be tagged as spoilers. They are busy planning their own strategy to counter the President.
This flurry of activity comes after the breakdown of negotiations over a possible budget compromise, which ultimately involved the President and the Democratic leader of the House, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., in face-to-face bargaining at the White House. The talks ended in acrimony, with both sides pointing the finger at the other.
As he did last year, Mr. Reagan is now once again asking Americans to put pressure on their representatives in Congress to support his economic policies - particularly his plans for a 25 percent personal income tax cut. The second phase of that plan, involving a 10 percent cut, is scheduled for 1983.
The President will be underscoring what he claims is a basic philosophical difference between his administration and liberal Democrats.
The Reagan message is fairly straightforward. It is that if the public wants to finally put a permanent crimp on government spending, it must once again give him strong and highly vocal support.
Reagan says he is for less government, and charges that the Democrats want to keep big government's role largely undiluted.
But the President applies his own twist to the argument when he insists - as some Republicans don't - that his cuts in income taxes, coupled with a decided drop in inflation, will provide a stimulus to the economy that will in time provide the tax revenues to reduce the budget deficit.
The President kicked off his appeal with a nationwide television address. But, at the same time, he and his aides were putting together a more comprehensive strategy for ultimately winning the budget battle on Capitol Hill. The plan includes the following elements:
* With Chief of Staff James Baker serving as the President's point man, the administration will, as it did so successfully last year, seek to put together a winning coalition of Republicans and Southern Democratic congressmen. In that manner, they hope to overcome the nominal edge that the Democrats enjoy in the House.
* Additionally, the President will make a strong personal effort to push Congress into specific spending and tax cuts.
Thus, Reagan is expected to be spending much of his time in upcoming weeks in wooing individual members of Congress.
* Also, the President's advisers say they hope the public sends a message to Republican congressmen; namely, that they better stay with the President or run the risk of not being re-elected in the fall.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are, for now at least, watching uncomfortably as the White House points an accusing finger at them for blocking a budget compromise. But some Democrats think they may win a reprieve as the budget moves through Congress and the political heat shifts to the Republicans.
One likely Democratic strategy is to force the Republican-controlled Senate to act first on the fiscal '83 budget. Then, Republican senators will be faced with hard choices: raising taxes and reducing defense (risking presidential displeasure), cutting annual raises for social security (inviting political disaster), or accepting the biggest deficit in history (risking rebellion on Wall Street and by Republicans who have regarded lowering the federal deficit as an article of party faith).
Democrats now will begin repairing damage from the White House media blitz showing them as the spoilers. Among their moves:
* They are trying to convince the public that even if the President went the ''extra mile'' to Capitol Hill this week, his offer was not a serious compromise.
Speaker O'Neill said he had rejected Mr. Reagan's offer to restore $9 billion for 1983 social programs, since the Democrats sought
O'Neill also turned down the President's offer to cut $28 billion from defense over three years. The Democrats wanted a $52 billion cut.
* Democrats will be guarding their image as protectors of the social security system. The Speaker complained that the White House had tried to ''set us up'' by portraying the Democrats as favoring a cutback in benefits.
With the breakdown of negotiations, social security recipients are almost guaranteed no change in benefits during fiscal 1983. Meanwhile, Democratic Party strategists are prepared to make social security a major campaign issue, with the slogan ''Save social security, vote Democratic.''