Washington — The tide is moving strongly toward President Reagan in his battle to win passage of his three-year, across-the-board tax cut in Congress. Experts at counting votes in the House find that Mr. Reagan is within a handful of the Democratic votes he needs to win in the House of Representatives.
A few days ago it appeared that the President would have to persuade at least 20 more House members to go along with his plan. Now congressional observers put the number down to five or less.
Reagan needs the backing of 27 Democrats while holding all the Republican congressmen in order to triumph.On the budget battle he persuaded 63 Democrats to vote his way.
The main prod behind the swing of House Democrats toward the Reagan proposal comes directly from influential citizens back in home districts who are phoning and telling their representatives to support the President.
In these calls there is always this implied threat: Obstruct the President and you won't get reelected.
House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas described the reaction of these congressmen to this pressure from home: "They are trembling," he told reporters ove breakfast June 10.
The Democratic defections come from conservative Southerners who are jumping ship much as they did when they helped fashion the Reagan budget victory.
However, the weakness of the opposition to Reagan also lies among those Democrats who remain on board. They seem to be in disarray.
Some Democratic liberals are saying that the House Ways and Means Committee already has gone too far in making concessions to the President on the tax cut -- concessions Mr. Reagan has rejected.
Other Democratic liberals are taking the position that the President should have his full bill -- so that when it fails to improve the economy (as they predict), he will be stuck with the consequences.
Congressman Wright has unveiled a plan aimed at saving the day for the Democratic House leadership.
He proposes that the eventual House bill blessed by these leaders include a provision for triggering a third-year tax cut if economic conditions at that time justify it.
Mr. Wright acknowledges that Reagan already has rejected this concept, opting for a 5 percent tax cut this October and 10 percent reductions in each of the succeeding years.
But majority leader Wright thinks the trigger clause would persuade several of the conservative House members to stay on board rather than go with the Reagan proposal.
"Down deep," he says, "they have real misgivings about the President's three-year tax cut and what it may do to the economy."
Wright thinks that the trigger clause would bring the leadership-written legislation close enough to the President's plan that it might permit congressmen to vote for it without being penalized later at the polls.
However, even as he pushes his suggestion, Wright doesn't talk as though he has too much hope of it turning the tide away from the President's proposal.
Actually, observers are finding a feeling of defeat among Democrats in both houses.