Come fall, Reagan says, White House will have momentum. President aims to put summer of setbacks behind him, begin anew
Washington — It's been a rough summer. But President Reagan promises to put the political dog days behind him after Labor Day. ``We intend to launch a major fall offensive, going to the people and working with the Congress to achieve major and much-needed reforms,'' Mr. Reagan told a small group of reporters in the Oval Office Monday.
At the top of his fall agenda: tax reform, additional budget savings, a balanced-budget amendment, and the line-item veto.
Momentum, a key to political power in this city, has been moving away from the White House for months. The President must seize the initiative after Labor Day, or he could see his agenda collapse under the growing pressures of the 1986 congressional campaigns.
The President attempted to draw the nation's attention away from recent events -- a move that was no surprise to those who have watched the White House battered by unfavorable news all summer.
First, a bout with surgery sidelined the President at a crucial moment in the budget negotiations.
That was followed by bruised feelings among top-ranking Republicans in the Senate, who felt the White House had allowed them to walk the plank alone on such sensitive issues as social security and taxes.
When the 1986 budget package finally emerged, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated savings at only $39 billion, far below the President's goal of $50.8 billion.
Added to these problems has been the growing black-white tension in South Africa. This has put the Reagan White House policy of ``constructive engagement'' toward South Africa on the defensive for weeks.
Then this past weekend, Texans voted to send a new Democratic congressman to Washington despite an all-out effort by Republicans to win. Although the race was close -- fewer than 2,000 votes separated the winner and loser -- it was a significant setback to the Reagan brand of Republicanism in the South.
Then on Monday, the President disclosed that in the past few days he had been treated for a mild form of skin cancer.
A key concern here is that the stormy summer has put the White House so far behind that Mr. Reagan has lost control of the nation's priorities.
Issues such as immigration reform and trade sanctions against Japan are being orchestrated on Capitol Hill, not in the White House.
Moves to punish South Africa have also originated on the Hill; Mr. Reagan has been left with the unhappy prospect of vetoing a measure that is popular in Congress and with many voters.
The wrangling over the budget may also have derailed tax reform. To date, reform has proved to be least popular in the Republican-controlled Senate, where there is sentiment for higher taxes.
The President tried to put the best face on all of this. He reminded reporters that the budget deficit had been reduced without new taxes that would ``slow us down.''
Further, he pointed to 600,000 new jobs already created this year, inflation at less than 4 percent, and falling interest rates. ``The economy is in good health,'' he concluded.
He also said his policy toward South Africa was working to get rid of racial discrimination. There he noted these developments: more biracial education; contributions of more than $100 million by US businesses toward black education and housing; elimination of the ban on mixed marriages; more desegregation of hotels; and other steps.
Both at home and abroad, he said, 1985 will be a ``year of progress.''