Will `Reagan revolution' leave mark?. Right wing seeks to build in conservative agenda gains
Is the ``Reagan era'' over? Not if bedrock conservatives have their way. Resisting the epithet of a ``lame-duck presidency,'' the White House is planning a strategy for the final 20 months that aims at consolidating conservative gains and pushing forward the Reagan agenda in whatever limited areas that time and politics permit.
Edwin J. Fuelner Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation and a recently appointed consultant to the White House, is drafting a strategic plan that will be submitted to the President within the next two weeks. The plan will set forth domestic priorities, fix timetables, and outline ways of mobilizing Cabinet officers and outside constituency groups to support the Reagan policies.
``We have to move ahead on the President's agenda instead of just being in a reactive mode,'' says Dr. Fuelner. ``You have to be able to react to what comes from from the Hill. At the same time you want to move ahead with other things and ... you want to lock in certain gains that have been made.''
Fuelner says the internal plan will revolve around the three main themes that the President has sounded in the past six years: economic growth, a safer world, and traditional values. In preparing his recommendations, Fuelner says, he has consulted with individual members of the Cabinet, including Attorney General Edwin Meese III, and Treasury Secretary James Baker III, as well as with White House aides.
There is little time left for significant presidential action, however. By early next year public attention will be focused almost entirely on the 1988 presidential race. Most political observers think the Reagan administration has run out of steam on the domestic policy front and is counting on an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union to buy time and divert attention from domestic issues - as well as from potential damage from the Iran-contra hearings coming up.
But Fuelner and newly appointed White House aides see a ``window of opportunity'' to make some progress on the conservative agenda. They cite as favorable factors the goodwill that chief of staff Howard Baker Jr. enjoys on Capitol Hill and with the news media; the President's undiminished communications skills and ability to use the Oval Office as a ``bully pulpit''; and the fact that Democratic congressional leaders are still feeling their way.
Realistically, the administration has only eight months or so to exploit these perceived advantages. The Fuelner plan is thus expected to recommend a three-phase timetable:
1.Laying out and moving on the main priorities before Aug. 1, when Congress recesses until Labor Day.
2.Using the President and high administration officials to promote the policies to the public in the fall.
3.Highlighting the President's priorities in his State of the Union message next January so that the political candidates will have to debate them.
Fuelner will not specify what policy initiatives will be advocated. But a ``strategy'' memorandum drawn up by him in February includes such domestic issues as ``privatization,'' welfare reform, expanded housing vouchers, private-sector health care, and new antitrust laws. On the foreign policy front, the conservative-right agenda remains early deployment of the President's Strategic Defense Initiative and promotion of the Reagan Doctrine of support for ``freedom fighters'' combating communism.
Many domestic items, such as catastrophic-illness insurance, welfare reform, and drugs, are already in the legislative hopper. Other initiatives recommended by the Heritage Foundation think tank in the past, such as establishing a private-sector social security system, are nonstarters politically.
Political analysts expect the administration to concentrate on only a few measures and only on initiatives that have the least opposition in Congress and will not cost money.
``We'll see some reform - but it's a nice way of saying `streamlined retrenchment,''' says Stephen Wayne, a presidential scholar at George Washington University. Fuelner indicates that, to revive support from the conservative right, more emphasis may be given to such proposals as school vouchers.
``There will be more action on the social front and on moral themes,'' says Fuelner, whose organization submitted lengthy recommendations at the beginning of each of Mr. Reagan's two terms. Many conservatives who worked for Reagan in 1984 because of his commitment to the social agenda, Fuelner says, have been turned off by the political process because there has been no real action.
Now, he says, the White House seeks to rekindle their enthusiasm so they can be enlisted to go to bat for other Reagan programs, such as ``star wars'' and support for the Nicaraguan rebels.
``You have to build coalitions and give them a stake,'' he comments.
Conservatives in and outside the government acknowledge that time constraints - and possible further damaging Iran-contra revelations - militate against advancing the Reagan agenda in a significant way. But they also feel that the ``Reagan revolution'' has already left an indelible legacy that a post-Reagan administration will find hard to erase.
First and foremost, say conservatives, President Reagan has altered the national agenda, forcing even Democrats to accept limits on domestic spending and consider reform of programs rather than more money for them.
``The American people no longer think in terms of enlarging the budget but of responsibility and accountability in terms of how money is spent,'' a White House aide says. ``If the next administration comes in and wants to do something about a hefty tax increase, they will be held accountable. ... This doesn't mean the American people won't buy it, but after eight years they will want to know why and where it's going.''
Tax policy is another area where Reagan leaves a solid legacy, conservatives say. Following the sweeping tax reform of 1986, it will be difficult for Democrats to try to use the income-tax system to raise more revenue.
Perhaps the most lasting Reagan legacy, the President's followers say, is the the appointment of conservative judges to the federal courts. By the time he leaves office, Reagan will have named almost half of all federal judges.
One area where Reaganites wish they could have done more is in transforming the federal civil service. They do not have an army of top civil servants ready to serve the conservative cause after Reagan is no longer on the scene. But many young conservatives have gone to work for the Reagan administration, and this could have a long-term effect.