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Veteran political team -- labor and Democrats -- plans '82 comeback

By Ed TownsendLabor correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 18, 1982



Bal Harbour, Fla.

The AFL-CIO and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are working together more closely than they have in many years in a partnership aimed at putting more liberals in Congress next November.

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The joint effort also is seen as a test of how well the two can work together , a trial run for the 1984 presidential election.

Meeting in Bal Harbour, Fla., AFL-CIO leaders said the conservative Congress elected along with President Reagan in 1980 must share the blame for the faltering economy and 8.5 percent unemployment. In 1981 Congress gave Mr. Reagan the deep cuts he sought in employment and social programs, and voted for his tax program, which included hefty corporate tax deductions.

This fall, according to AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, the labor federation will mount an intensive campaign, shoulder to shoulder with the DNC, to elect a ''more responsive'' Congress.

Their success in November, however, is likely to depend more on economic conditions than on political campaigning. If the President's economic policies produce results over the next few months - particularly a decline in unemployment and an easing of inflation - then labor and its Democratic allies will face a difficult campaign.

At stake in November are all 435 seats in the US House and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Democrats now hold a 243-to-192 edge in the House, but many Southern Democrats (''boll weevils'') support Mr. Reagan's conservative economic views. Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority in the Senate.

Earlier, AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE) and the DNC were ready to concede the loss of additional Democratic seats in the House and Senate this fall. Now, encouraged by polls showing Mr. Reagan vulnerable on the issues of unemployment and social security benefits, they believe they can widen the Democratic majority in the House and at least prevent the loss of more Democratic seats in the Senate.

Conferring during the AFL-CIO's Executive Council meeting in Florida, COPE leaders set goals of gaining 15 to 20 seats in the House and defeating one or two conservative Democrats who have supported Reagan.

The political coalition also will try to defeat Sen. John H. Chafee (R) of Rhode Island, a conservative, and defend liberal Sen. -Howard M. Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio, who is a top target of political conservatives.

John Perkins, new director of COPE, reported to the federation this week that prospects in the House are ''still nebulous'' because redistricting has not yet been completed in 16 states.

As things stand now, COPE expects that five Democrats will be added to the House majority. (The DNC estimates that as many as 35 will be added; Mr. Perkins responds that COPE's figure is ''a realistic appraisal by people who have been in this for a long time.'') Two-hundred House seats are listed as marginal, which means that they could go either way this fall.

In the Senate, COPE says that a net gain of five seats is ''possible but not yet probable.'' A net gain of five is considered necessary if the Democrats are to regain control of the Senate.

COPE considers 11 of 33 Senate contests to be marginal. These include 10 Democratic and one GOP seat.