Washington — When Ronald Reagan was told by aide Lyn Nofziger, "You'll be happy to know that the government is running normally," the response from the President's hospital bed was typically Reaganesque: "What makes you sure I'd be happy about that?"
Buoyed by Mr. Reagan's early steps toward quick recovery, the federal government indeed is running -- if not in a fully normal manner -- at least without much of a hitch in its consideration of the fundamental changes the President wants to impose on Washington.
The President yesterday morning signed the Dairy Price Support bill, one of his first legislative victories. A hospital spokesman said the President "is fully alert. . . . He can probably put in a full day today as long as he gets a nap."
On Capitol Hill, the hearings and testimony on various portions of the administration's economic recovery program face very little delay following this week's assassination attempt.
"I don't see any slowdown or hiatus," says a senior Democratic congressional source."A schedule has been agreed upon by the House, and my assumption is that the President will make a quick recovery and be available to press his program."
Republican sources agree with this view. Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker (R) of Tennessee Monday did not cancel or postpone Capitol Hill hearings at which top Cabinet members including David A. Stockman, Caspar W. Weinberger, and Raymond J. Donovan were scheduled to testify.
The full Senate continued its debate on social security and the 300,000 recipients who would lose their minimum monthly payments of $122 a month under Reagan budget cuts. Just before news of the President's being shot reached Capitol Hill, opposition Democrats were railing against "taking a meat ax to social security." It remains to be seen whether this kind of sharp criticism will continue in the days immediately following the attempted assassination.
"I'm sure that, if not consciously, at least subconsciously there'll be somewhat of a reluctance to speak out strongly against the President's programs, " said a top aide for Sen. Donald Riegle (D) of Michigan, one of the leaders of the Democratic opposition.
"Obviously there's no mood, at least for the moment, to be critical of the President," said another Senate Democratic source.
There are several new items that will be of concern on Capitol Hill as a result of this week's shooting.
Rep. Peter Peyser (D) of New York yesterday introduced legislation requiring the registration and licensing of all handguns, a bill he had been working on since the murder of John Lennon last December. House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts told reporters, however, "I don't think a gun control bill can pass here."
More immediately, questions are being raised about how the alleged assailant -- a man who last year was arrested carrying three handguns in Nashville, Tenn., when President Carter was there -- could have gotten so close to Reagan.
The Secret Service keeps a general list of about 20,000 people known to have threatened someone the agency is charged with protecting. A smaller list of about 400 is kept of those who not only have made threats but who have access to weapons or a history of mental illness.
The Secret Service and other law-enforcement agencies keep track of such people, and in some cases they are detained if they are in the President's vicinity.
Until yesterday, according to a spokesman, the Secret Service had no knowledge of the alleged assailant even though he had a prior record of instability and carrying firearms in the vicinity of a president.
"Of course, we're reviewing our procedures . . . what we did right and what we did wrong," said Secret Service agent Laurie Davis.
On Capitol Hill, there is an increasing sense that Congress in its oversight capacity should be seeking answers to the same questions.
House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas told the Monitor he thinks alleged assailant John Hinkley should have been on the Secret Service list of potentially dangerous people. Representative Wright predicts that Congress will investigate that omission.