As election dust settles, tests of policy return to center stage; THE CONGRESS
The President's smashing personal victory has left Congress almost untouched. Even as he made his 49-state sweep through the nation, the enormously popular incumbent failed to pull along enough Republicans to give him a working majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, the Republican ranks will be reduced by two, for a total of 53.Skip to next paragraph
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The result is that any hopes for a second wave of the Reagan revolution similar to the budget-cutting and tax-reduction blitz of 1981 have now been doused. President Reagan will have to deal with a feisty, Democratic-controlled House and a cautious Republican Senate in 1985.
Although the GOP expected to retake the 26 House seats it lost two years ago and thus regain the clout it enjoyed during the first two years of the Reagan administration, it had added no more than 15 seats as of this writing. That is roughly the same result as during the Richard Nixon landslide of 1972, when Republicans picked up only 12 House seats.
President Reagan's coattails have shrunk considerably during the past four years. In 1980 the Republicans took control of the Senate and added 34 seats to their column in the House.
Even as Democrats watched their party go down in one of the worst presidential defeats of the century, they counted the election a congressional victory for their party.
''If there were a repudiation of the Democratic Party, we would have lost (more) seats in the House,'' said Rep. Tony Coelho, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Until recently, the California congressman had predicted a loss of only 7 or 8 seats. He said election night, however, that the GOP would need at least 25 to provide President Reagan with a working majority. At press time, reports gave the Republicans 168 House seats, to the Democrats' 267.
''They really like Ronald Reagan,'' Mr. Coelho said of the voters. ''But they did not put his program in.'' He said that voters ''want a check'' on the President. He added said of House members, ''Nobody's afraid'' of the Reagan clout, as they were in the first term.
That apparently is exactly what the Democratic House leaders have in mind for the next four years. Coelho predicted a ''stalemate'' on Capitol Hill. ''That's what the country wants,'' he said. Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. said in a television interview that people wanted the House to be a ''Democratic safety net.''
The House minority leader, Robert H. Michel (R) of Illinois, said after reviewing the GOP gain of only 13 to 15 seats that ''I don't think people should expect too many victories'' for Republican proposals in the House.
It is not yet clear what the legislative goals will be during the next Reagan administration. As a candidate, the President set out only a vague outline, including tax ''simplification'' and reduction of government waste.
To fight the huge budget deficit, he has proposed a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, plus a plan to permit the president to veto line items in spending bills. But he will not have enough backers in Congress to ensure passage of such proposals, and neither would have an immediate impact on the federal government's red ink.