Washington — Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D) of New York, the leprechaun of the Senate, says the controversy over the budget deficit has reached a ''crisis point.''
He says the growing controversy is accompanied by a White House ''leakage from reality,'' with the President retreating into symbolic acts, like a proposed balanced budget constitutional amendment, ''which are not adequate to govern.''
This is the same ''Pat'' Moynihan who one time got a telephone call from Ronald Reagan praising three sociological articles he had written for The New Yorker in 1973 and his book, ''The Politics of a Guaranteed Income.'' The call marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
They like each other still. But Senator Moynihan, who is making a second run for his Senate job, told a breakfast group of reporters here March 24 that the President faces a horrendous $122 billion deficit this year and is neglecting his duty. He should be sending a new program to Congress, said the Senator. Otherwise, as Moynihan put it, he is ''not governing. He wanted the job, and he ought to do the hard part as well as the fun part.''
Nobody has ever quite defined Moynihan, the most exuberant (and some say infuriating) man in Congress and a throwback to earlier days when some of the most individual and eccentric men in America came to the Senate. From an impoverished New York slum home, he served in the Navy, graduated with honors from Tufts University, and studied at the London School of Economics. By latest count, he has since received honorary degrees from 42 colleges and universities.
Moynihan headed the Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard and MIT. As a liberal-conservative hybrid, he came to Washington to help Richard Nixon become what he wanted to be, an American Disraeli - in other words, a conservative who put into effect sweeping social reforms. Moynihan charm apparently overwhelmed the unlikely Richard Nixon. Income maintenance legislation was introduced and passed the House Ways and Means Committee, though it was never enacted. The bill would have guaranteed a basic income for every US family, based on $1,600 for a family of four. Students still rub their eyes in wonder that President Nixon accepted the plan, promulgated by the man who was Urban Affairs Counsellor.
Pat Moynihan's picture was on the cover of Time magazine, July 28, 1967, with blue eyes and a round, pink, puckish face; he was described as an ''urbanologist.'' He was then working on the problems of the big cities.
''There is a certain kind of decent, liberal mind,'' he wrote, ''which feels any criticism of liberal programs is illiberal, because everything is so precarious that any criticism is just going to give the enemy ammunition. That's not the way to make things work. We have to call things as we see them.''
His love affair with the conservative Nixon administration was one of the most remarkable alliances in modern politics. He believed the government should guarantee jobs by becoming the employer of last resort when the national unemployment rate rose above 3 percent. (It is around 9 percent today.) His second solution for poverty was family allowances for families with children.
''We are the only industrial democracy in the world,'' he told a Senate subcommittee,'' that does not have a family or children allowance. The Canadian allowance, at that time, for example, amounted to $8 a month for each child under six, $12 a month for children between six and 17.
When the Watergate scandal broke, Moynihan was safely away as ambassador to India (1973-75) and later was US ambassador to the United Nations.
Today? Moynihan was delighted and flattered when candidate Ronald Reagan called him up and praised articles he had written on helping the slums. That was fine last year. But he says the US now faces ''three years of the largest deficits in history'' - starting, he fears, with a whopping $122 billion in 1982 . Something must give, he says succinctly. ''This is grown-up time.''