The ''education'' of David Stockman, as described in a current Atlantic Monthly article, offers lessons for the American public, too. The first of these is that the pressure to get federal spending and taxing under control in an equitable way must be sustained despite the obstacles discovered by budget director Stockman during the past year. Indeed, there is still promise in some of the specific means he failed to achieve as well as in the basic philosophy which he saw overridden by the ''hogs'' of special-interest politics.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Stockman's office called the article grossly misleading, but it did not disown the ''off-the-record'' quotations which author William Greider said he had published under agreed conditions. A central one has received little attention in the furor over such tidbits as dubbing the Kemp-Roth plan for across-the-board tax cuts a ''Trojan horse'' to bring down the top rate from 70 percent to 50 percent. This central quotation sums up a reformer's hopes for radical change. It would mean legislative action shaped by policy rather than power-brokering, with subsidies for the affluent as well as others cut back according to the merits of the subsidies not the political clout of those claiming them.
''We are interested in curtailing weak claims rather than weak clients,'' said Mr. Stockman amidst plans to cut what he regarded as ineffective programs for poor communities as well as comfortable ones. And: ''We have to show that we are willing to attack powerful clients with weak claims. I think that's critical to our success - both political and economic success.''
Yet Mr. Stockman began expressing private doubts about preserving this line or getting a handle on the budget process even as he continued to be the administration's budgetary point man during the heady days of pushing the Reagan economic programs through Congress. Then it appeared that, if anybody knew what was going on, Stockman with all his facts and figures did. Now politicians are making much of the article's contrary disclosures as a threat to the credibility of the budget director and the administration he represents. It is a threat the administration has to address by matching words and deeds.
But this fallout from the article should not obscure the possibility of positive results. There are plenty of words to the wise here in Mr. Stockman's dismayed observation of ''policy-based'' measures giving way to the old political horse-trading and bowing to organized interests. There may be means of reducing the resulting deficits through salvaging things he proposed and had rejected within the administration. The article tells of that ''Chapter II'' he devised but never brought to Capitol Hill. It contained some $20 billion in savings through reduced tax subsidies - something now being actively discussed by others.
In short, whether or not one agrees with the particulars of the Stockman approach, it did begin as a new approach, one seeking an equity that becomes all the more essential as the country grapples with the need for sacrifice to turn the economy around.