One-upmanship

THE $150 billion three-year compromise deficit-reduction package hammered out over the weekend by President Reagan and GOP senators deserves the broadest support from Capitol Hill.

At the very minimum, a package along the lines of the consensus agreement should be enacted into law. Even better, lawmakers should aim higher - at, say, a $200 billion package, as now proposed by Democrats and desired by many Republicans.

What's going on in Washington, it becomes increasingly clear, is a contest of one-upmanship. In his State of the Union address Mr. Reagan called for a $100 billion deficit-reduction ''down payment.'' Since then, both Democrats and Republicans have been raising the ante. Obviously, the Republicans, with their $ 150 billion package, want to preempt the Democrats. Democrats have replied by calling for a $200 billion package.

Given the sheer magnitude of the deficits - at least $600 billion in red ink through fiscal year 1987 - a little bit of one-upmanship isn't all that bad. Who knows, a few more months of such horse-trading and we might have a genuinely meaningful deficit-reduction plan.

What's important, though, is that a package of even $150 billion to $200 billion would be fairly substantial. A $200 billion package would represent around one-third or so of future cumulative deficits for the three-year period. As noted by one top official at the Congressional Budget Office, ''Only a few months ago the general attitude around Washington was that no agreement would be possible this year.''

The Reagan-Senate GOP package includes $48 billion in new taxes, mainly through closing various loopholes; $43 billion in domestic spending cuts, mainly through cuts and benefit adjustments in medicare and medicaid; and $57 billion in defense savings through reductions or slowdowns in certain programs. Mr. Reagan, in other words, has finally backed down on defense. He has repeatedly insisted that he wanted an increase in military spending authority for fiscal year 1985 of 13 percent (after adjusting for inflation). According to the White House, under the agreement reached with GOP senators, spending authority would increase by 5.1 percent (after inflation) in fiscal year 1985; by 5.0 percent in fiscal 1986; by 4.9 percent in fiscal 1987. Using another method of computing defense spending, the increase for fiscal 1985 would be 7.5 percent.

Democrats will no doubt study the defense proposals carefully to make certain that the numbers are what they appear to be. Additional reductions could be achieved without hurting national defense.

The temptation to block an agreement could surface at any time during this election year. But the American public would not take kindly to Washington's scuttling an effective deficit reduction package.

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