Georgia's junior senator gets earful on federal deficits

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In an elegant mansion built in the 1830s, some 60 local business and political leaders gathered for breakfast Thursday to hear and question the junior senator from Georgia, Mack Mattingly. And as the Republican lawmaker samples voter views during the Easter congressional recess, the issue high on the list of many is the federal deficit.

The message from these voters: Cut federal spending across the board.

But when it comes to specifics, each group Senator Mattingly addresses has its own pet program it wants to keep off limits for cuts.

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At the breakfast gathering here at Mercer University, banker Bob Hatcher, sitting at one of the dozen or so tables with yellow table cloths and artificial flowers, said in an interview:

``Taking away from every special-interest group makes it [federal spending cuts] a whole lot more palatable.'' On defense, he said: ``It needs to be strong, but it can basically be cut.''

But at the same table, Bob Hargrove, dean of the college of liberal arts at Mercer, said he does not want further cuts in federal aid to students. The cuts are reducing the chance that many students from middle-income families will go to college, he says.

``A private school like Mercer becomes either a rich kid's haven or a poor kid's haven. You don't have anyone in the middle,'' he says.

A local businessman asked Senator Mattingly when a new tax law with strong investment credits would be passed. In Atlanta earlier in the week, officials in the aviation industry sought his continued support for more defense spending.

And minority contractors told the senator they were concerned about Reagan administration plans to eliminate the Small Business Administration.

Yet the mood for federal spending cuts is evident in remarks like those of Atlanta housewife Heather Vaseff. As she rode the city's rapid-rail system -- whose administrators are seeking more federal funding to expand the system -- she said political leaders must ``be willing to stand up on unpopular positions, such as cutting social security. Statesmanship is the need of the hour, instead of appealing to what gets votes.''

Mattingly, a former businessman, is calling for a freeze on all federal spending except for social security. And in a state proud of its big share of military facilities, the senator is critical of some military programs.

But he also wants more spending on military aircraft and backs research on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as the ``star wars'' program. He voted for the MX missile.

A staunch conservative, Mattingly says that ``taxes are off limits'' as a way to cut deficits. ``You don't hear anyone talking about raising taxes,'' he says. ``You have to freeze and reform.''

In talking about his conversations with voters he says, ``A lot of them want to know if everyone is being affected the same'' by proposed budget cuts.

Some Georgia voters have expressed concern about proposed cuts in social security cost-of-living raises and over cuts in other income-support programs, says Tom Harris, an aide to Mattingly.

And if Mattingly saw the editorial pages this week of the Atlanta Constitution, he might have noted a crosscurrent of views in the Letters-to-the-Editor column.

One writer decried a plan to spend federal money to save wood storks in South Carolina. Two writers called for more help for the nation's hungry, and one urged a buy-American approach to dealing with trade deficits.

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