Reagan's low-key transition keeps Washington guessing

America elects a president first and finds out about him afterward. A week before the inaugural, curiosity about Ronald Reagan's first steps -- his first "hundred days" -- has become almost intolerable in political Washington. For the most part he has been secluded in California. His two visits to Washington have set a mood but given little specific evidence on policy. His new Cabinet -- conventional, pragmatic, right-of-center -- offers few clues. Washington discusses Mr. Reagan's "detachment" with fascination and analyzes every scrap of evidence.

Meanwhile, problems are piling on Reagan's plate.

The economy is in trouble and bizarre gyrations of the stock market indicate jitters beneath the surface. Will Reagan's proposed three-year, Kemp-Roth tax cut, along with expenditure slashes, ease the problem?

Problems abroad could also easily get out of hand. The US hostages remain in Iran; the Soviet Union may invade Poland; relations with NATO allies are in a transition state; El Salvador seethes in Central America, and the Middle East threat to oil supplies continues.

A week before the inaugural, curiosity about Ronald Reagan's first steps -- his first "hundred days" -- has become almost intolerable in political Washington. For the most part he has been secluded in California. His two visits to Washington have set a mood but given little specific evidence on policy. His new Cabinet -- conventional, pragmatic, right of center -- offers few clues. Washington discusses Mr. Reagan's "detachment" with The President-elect and his appointees give confusing signals: Reagan said late in the campaign he would resume SALT talks "immediately"; Caspar Weinberger, his nominee for secretary of defense, said in confirmation hearings that "new arms talks should wait at least six months"; but Secretary of State-designate Alexander M. Haig Jr. told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the search for ways to reduce the risk of nuclear war is "an urgent and important task" which he would tackle "in the very early days of the [Reagan] administration."

General Haig told the committee he does not feel bound by the Republican Party platform drawn up in Detroit last July because he "didn't participate" in writing it.

President Carter prepared to make his "farewell address" to the nation Wednesday (Jan. 14) at 9 p.m. EST. His final budget will be delivered to Congress Jan. 15, a presentation in which he will try to paint a picture as favorable as possible of the federal deficit and of the entire Democratic economic legacy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took over a faltering economy from Herbert Hoover in 1933 and his bold, firm leadership captured the nation's imagination. Republicans cited Roosevelt in the campaign and Reagan quoted him in his acceptance speech. But Washington and the nation have little hint yet if Reagan propos es specific new measures.

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