Washington — President Reagan, speaking over the heads of legislators in Congress, appeals to the American people to join with him in "gaining control of runaway government."
"Hundreds of savings," the President said, have been added to the 83 programmatic cuts he already had proposed for the fiscal 1982 budget.
Mr. Reagan's knife-wielding budget cutters -- led by David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) -- now have slashed a total of $48.6 billion from the 1982 budget first submitted to Congress by Jimmy Carter.
Another $7.3 billion, the President said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, will be saved by reducing off-budget government spending and by charging "user fees" to groups of Americans, such as boat owners.
The Reagan remarks were made March 9 at the outdoor signing of his revised 1982 budget message to Congress, witnessed not only by reporters and the blinking red eyes of TV cameras, but by dozens of OMB employees who had labored to put the package together over many weeks.
Speaking on the eve of his trip to Canada, the President seemed determined to impress several things on Americans in general and on US senators and representatives in particular.
* "If we can put a few points from the inflation rate," Mr. Reagan said, "this will do more to help [elderly and needy] Americans than any federal programs."
* The "safety net" of services -- including social security and medicare -- designed to help Americans truly in need "remains intact," the President declared. His budget cuts, however wide-ranging, have been "evenhanded," he said.
Clearly Reagan and his aides are trying to deflect a swelling volume of criticism that his total economic program benefits the rich and hurts the disadvantaged.
Indeed, moments after Reagan ended his message-signing, a sea of angry coal miners marched toward the White House, protesting the President's proposed cuts in the black lung program. Thousands of placard-bearing miners, who had gathered in Washington over the weekend, vowed to shut down the nation's coal mines if the cuts were not restored.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. declared that Congress would not rubber-stamp the President's 1982 budget, but would examine it line-by-line.
Congressional Democrats, after a cautious testing of the political wind, now are moving to challenge those parts of the Reagan program which they think weigh heavily on lower-income Americans and the middle class.
Reagan's goal is to hold fiscal 1982 spending to $695.5 billion and the 1982 budget deficit to $45 billion. As spending estimates have grown in recent weeks , the White House has had to slash more deeply into programs to approach these goals.
He was fully prepared, said President Reagan, to make still further cuts to reach his spending and deficit targets and his administration is "committed to a five-year program" to gain control of government spending.
Criticism of the whole reagan approach to fiscal policy is beginning to zero in on two aspects:
1. Liberal members of Congress and the groups they represent claim that Reagan-proposed cuts in food stamp, child nutrition, public jobs, and other social programs will impact most severely on what economist Walter W. Heller calls the "near poor and the poor." This constitutes, Mr. Heller said Sunday on "Meet the Press" (NBC-TV), "a turning back of the clock."
2. The Reagan program, according to Heller, contains an "internal contradiction." It calls for rapid growth of the economy beginning in 1982, "side-by-side with a terribly tight monetary policy."
Either interest rates will be showed "sky high," says Heller, or economic growth will be slower than projected by the White House.
This view, widely held by traditional economists, is disputed by White House officials, who believe that three years of income tax cuts, buttressed by tax benefits for business, will boost savings and investment, raise productivity, speed up economic growth, and cut into inflation.