Venice: a so-so summit

THE Venice economic summit this week showed once again how difficult it is to get away from the political realities at home. For the Reagan administration the limiting factors were partly under the President's control, partly not. Mr. Reagan cannot pour more sand into his administration's hourglass; time is running out and, with time, influence; unlike most of his fellow summiteers, he cannot run again. He was captive of his own administration's scandal, the Iran-contra affair, the focus of attention back in Washington.

Yet Reagan could have gone to the summit with a grand compromise on the United States budget deficit, which would have made him look more like an economic policy activist. As it was, this week House and Senate budgeters stalemated again on how to split their differences over defense outlays and revenue increases. The missing partner is the President. His decision to sit out the budget deliberations of the world's greatest debtor, his own government, until at least the fall, sets an example of laissez faire governance.

Reagan's Venice partners from Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, Canada, and Japan were in no great rush to sit in with him on his pet projects like the defense of Persian Gulf shipping and elimination of agricultural subsidies, where their own political contexts rule. Limited and unspecified coordination of economic policies, a process already under way, was reendorsed. NATO unity on East-West arms negotiations was, for the moment at least, maintained, preserving Reagan's best shot at a major White House achievement in his second term.

Major issues like forestalling recession and anticipating greater competition in services were consciously avoided. The low expectations for Venice were met.

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