Capital gingerly picks up President's economic gauntlet; Most opposition in Congress centers on personal tax cut

The great debate on the President's economic plan is well-launched. Its foes call it "the great experiment." The Reagan team calls it, in effect, "the last, best chance."

Congress already is the battleground. But the fight will be waged with intensity by both sides at the National Governors' Conference, which is meeting here starting Feb. 23.

Special interest groups threatened by trims in government benefits also are coming together to resist.

Unions, notably the powerful AFL-CIO, say the proposals damage the poor and unduly help the rich.

Many leaders in the field of education are echoing this judgment.

Retired federal workers are particularly upset over the proposal to have their benefits adjusted for inflation only once a year instead of twice. They say Mr. Reagan in the campaign pledged otherwise.

But there is no real outcry of anguish in Congress. Not yet anyway.

Some liberals, like Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D) of Wisconsin, assert that the proposals discriminate against the disadvantaged. But few seem angry about it.

Instead, the opposition -- what there is of it -- centers not so much on spending cuts but on the tax cut pushed by the President.

Thus, the imminent fight seems to be over whether to give Reagan his three-year package or provide a tax reduction for one year only.

Also, the opponents are talking about making the tax trim 7 or 8 percent in the first year instead of the 10 percent Reagan wants for each of the three coming years.

The effort by the President to win the hearts and support of the nation's governors already is under way.

Reagan is bucking the report of a study prepared by the National Governors' Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures warning that the President's budget will bring about "dislocation for state budgets."

The President, six of his Cabinet members, and several of his top economic planners, will meet with the governors this week in an effort to persuade them that they will, indeed, fare well under the new federal plan.

If the President cannot persuade the governors that they should welcome his proposals, he hopes -- White House aides say -- to at least cushion the shock of the imminent federal cutbacks to the states and try to convince them that this is what they have been calling for for years -- the opportunity to move government away from Washington and toward the states.

Political leaders from all around the United States are being heard from. Their consensus: The President's speech went down well with the American people.

Democratic state chieftains, however, are saying that the people have not absorbed what the impending cuts will mean -- to themselves as well as to others.

The Democratic theme: The public is fed up with the current approach to dealing with ills of the US economy. It wants a change, something new.

These Democrats say that Americans at this point are accepting the Reagan plan simply because it is a different approach. They contend that the prevailing view of the public seems to be: "Let's give it a try; it can't be any worse than what we'v e been doing, and it could be better."

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