Reagan team at odds over prospects for deficit package
Top Reagan administration officials are divided as to the prospects of negotiating a successful three-year, $100 billion deficit reduction ''down payment'' with Congress.Skip to next paragraph
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''There is a good chance of the President being successful,'' said Martin S. Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a Monitor interview. ''I don't see how the Democrats can walk away by saying $100 billion, $100 billion-plus, isn't enough. We say, well, if $100 billion isn't enough and you can come up with acceptable items, we are happy to go above $100 billion. We recognize that more needs to be done.''
Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan was more cautious.
''We have to see whether or not they want to live up to cries . . . in the House asking for a 'summit,' '' he said in another Monitor interview, referring to the possibility of a final bargaining session between President Reagan and the congressional leadership.
He accused the Democrats of ''not even participating in the prelude (to the summit) with any degree of speed.''
Another leading White House official, who asked that his name not be used, doubted whether a summit would produce a comprehensive package of spending cuts and revenue-boosting measures. But he thought it possible ''ad hoc legislative actions'' later this year might reduce the deficit somewhat from the $180 billion now forecast by the administration for fiscal 1985.
The stickiest issue in the negotiations is the amount of defense spending. The 1985 budget asks for $305 billion in spending authority, up $47 billion from the year before, or 13 percent after allowing for inflation.
That increase, admitted this highly placed official, ''is not going to fly'' on Capitol Hill.
Lawrence Kudlow, chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget until last year, says the defense budget request contains much ''fluff,'' and one administration official admits as much.
The White House official speculated that Congress might be willing to give an extra $20 billion to $25 billion for defense. But whether that would satisfy Mr. Reagan remains an unknown.
''I don't know how far the President is willing to go,'' noted the highly placed official.
The President, he held, tends to ignore the defense budget numbers, concentrating on the provisions for actual weapons programs. His attitude, it was said, is: ''Those defense numbers are flaky . . . so why get confused by them?''
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, however, is described as ''a true believer'' in the numbers prepared by his aides. He will at first describe any cuts in the defense budget ''as the end of Western civilization,'' and nine months later talk of the nation making ''further strides'' in building its defenses, the White House official held.
So far Congress has not eliminated any major defense system sought by Reagan. But Congress has ''pared off the fluff.''
In any case, one White House official feels the defense budget proposal is the administration's ''weakest point,'' considering the views of both Congress and the public that defense spending is probably higher than necessary. Another top official calls defense cuts proposed by some congressional leaders ''preposterous.''
Obviously, in tough negotiations like this, no side wants to give away its hand in advance. Indeed, there may be considerable posturing as to who is at fault and what the chances for success of the talks are, with pessimism part of the bargaining process.