The future of David Stockman
Washington — Budget Director David Stockman, after his article on Reaganomics in the Atlantic Monthly several months ago, became something of a mystery man. The mystery: would he or would he not be able to keep his job?
Mr. Stockman, highly visible while testifying on behalf of the Reagan budget on the Hill, has been keeping pretty much out of sight where reporters are concerned. But a few days ago he made his first post-Atlantic appearance at a press breakfast group. And he seemed to be the same supremely confident fellow he was before his comments on the Reagan economic plan.
But Mr. Stockman, bowed, chastened, and apologetic after he had, in his own words, been ''taken to the woodshed'' by the President in the wake of the interview, does seem his old self again. ''I'm out of the woodshed,'' he quipped.
''No,'' he replied in answer to a question, ''I don't think I lost any of my credibility'' with Congress. Yes, he conceded, there were times during the frustrating process of trying to put a budget together that he thought of leaving government.
Of late, he said, this thought had been occurring to him on ''increasingly frequent occasions.'' But, asked if this meant he was departing soon, he said with a smile: ''I don't think we ought to be predicting either interest rates or my tenure. They are both heading in the right direction.''
Within the White House there has been a mixed view of Stockman's future from the outset of his troubles, which one top administration aide attributed to ''a tendency to talk too much.'' The aide forecast that Mr. Stock-man would be eased out by the President as soon as he had ended testifying on behalf of the budget this spring. He still says he thinks that the OMB director ''will be out of government and on Wall Street'' within a short time.
There are also key Republican politicians who continue to believe that Mr. Stockman will never fully recover his credibility and has lost his usefulness. They were willing to go along with Stockman's retention during the budget-shaping period. ''Who else really understands the intricacies of the Reagan budget?'' is how they would put it.
But now they contend it is time for the President to remove Mr. Stockman and let a new OMB head learn the budget from the ground up and be in a position to sell it to Congress in subsequent years.
Yet there are highly influential people in the White House who say that Mr. Stockman has made it all the way back to good standing with the President. Said one the other day: ''You know, Stockman still spends a great deal of time with the President. You could argue that he is one of the most powerful men in government, because of this access.''
In a subsequent interview with Vice-President Bush, this reporter asked about the OMB chief's future. ''I would hate to see David Stockman leave,'' he said.
Q: ''Has Stockman made a comeback with the President?''
A: ''I can't speak for the President. But my answer is 'yes' - because Stockman is bright and hardworking. He made a big mistake. But he admitted to this mistake right up front. And since then he has worked very diligently.''
Q: ''But does he still have his credibility with Congress?''
A: ''I think so. I think the whole idea that every time Stockman came up there they would make him the issue has not proved true. And that's because he is an intelligent person with a command of facts and figures that people respect.''
Q: ''But didn't he get some criticism from Congress?''
A: ''When he first came up to the Hill after all this, the opposition tried to humiliate him. Some unheard-of congressman got 30 or 40 seconds at the top of the news berating him. But I believe that feeling is now calmed down.''
It is the President who has the last word on Mr. Stockman. But one could conclude, knowing how close the vice-president is to Mr. Reagan, that Stockman may indeed be back to stay - unless, of course, he himself has tired of the heat in his exceedingly hot Washington kitchen.