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President heads for ranch with his briefcase bulging ; His agenda shows signs of `slipping' as unfinished business mounts

By Charlotte SaikowskiStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 5, 1985


The presidential platter is spilling over. As President Reagan leaves today for a 10-day vacation at his California ranch, his baggage includes a long list of domestic and foreign policy problems that could complicate his second term.

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Congressional and other political observers say that unlike the one in his first term, Mr. Reagan's agenda is already overloaded. Problems appear to be accumulating faster than the White House is able to deal effectively with them -- despite internal reorganization and the President's more confrontational posture.

Political experts cite these developments:

Reagan faces a battle with Congress for $14 million in aid for the Nicaraguan rebels, after having spent considerable political capital winning a fight over the MX missile. His new plan for ending the Nicaraguan civil war is designed as a concession to lawmakers to win support for his aid policy.

There is still no agreement between Senate Republicans and the White House on a budget reduction package.

Despite a desire to move ahead on tax reform, the Easter recess and congressional deadlines on other issues could jeopardize adoption of a tax plan before the end of the year.

West European leaders are questioning Reagan's ``star wars'' plan, a fact that has implications for the Geneva arms talks.

Relations with Japan have reached a point of strain over the growing protectionist mood in the US government.

Because of these and other problems, political observers say, the White House may face difficulties achieving its priority objectives. This, in turn, could affect the image of presidential leadership, which was so high during the first term and carried over into the 1984 election.

``Things have been slipping -- obviously,'' House GOP leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois said of the President's agenda at a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday. He noted that the President had gotten off to an abnormally late start with his State of the Union message; that this has caused delay in the congressional schedule; that the Easter recess will add further timing problems; and that up to now it has been difficult for GOP leaders to deal with the White House because of the reorganization under new chief of staff Donald T. Regan.

``The problem Reagan has been facing is that his agenda is too long this year,'' says David Gergen, a former high aide in the Reagan White House. ``He is pursing six objectives simultaneously. He's got a plateful, and this could lead to a loss of leadership image.''

Not surprisingly, Reagan's second term so far is a marked contrast to the first year of the first term. In 1981 the President concentrated on one main goal: his economic recovery package. By May he had mobilized Congress to win a major legislative victory. In 1984 he had an expanded agenda, including budget reduction, tax reform, arms control (based on an entirely new strategic concept), and a political change in Nicaragua.