Nobody quite knows the pattern of Ronald Reagan's economic thinking. Conservative -- yes; but will he favor big tax-cutting, or government retrenchment?
Now a star-studded and made-to-order economic advisory group, called the Committee to Fight Inflation, has been put together by Dr. Arthur Burns, one-time chairman of the Federal Reserve System. It has a 13-man roster that includes five former secretaries of the Treasury, two former chairmen of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System, a one-time chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and three former chairmen of powerful congressional finance committees. It has prepared a policy statement and is undertaking to set up shop in the capital.
It would seem to be just what a newly elected president of conservative views , unfamiliar with Washington, might cherish as an advisory group. But if that president were Mr. Reagan, it could have one catch:
This bipartisan union of former officials to fight inflation omits from its statement of policy any major tax cut of the sort that former Governor Reagan has endorsed.
Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York, an author of a proposal to cut taxes 10 percent a year for three years, has been discussed as a possible Reagan running mate. The Burns group strongly backs the balanced budget, as does Mr. Reagan. In its preliminary statement, however, it is silent on a stimulative Reagan-style tax cut to help get the nation out of its present recession.
The burns group wants a two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority, in Senate and House in order to authorize a deficit. Mr. Reagan has expressed sympathy for a proposal going further than this -- a constitutional amendment forbidding a deficit above a certain percentage of federal income.
The five former secretaries of the Treasury in the Burns group are Henry H. Fowler (Johnson administration); W. Michael Blumenthal (Carter); C. Douglas Dillon (Kennedy); George P. Shultz (Nixon); and William E. Simon (Nixon and Ford). The group also includes Paul W. McCracken, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (Nixon); William McChesney Martin Jr., chairman of the Federal Reserve System (Truman); John W. Byrnes, one-time ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee; George H. Mahon, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Wilbur D. Mills, former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
The potentially powerful all-star Burns group is fearful lest efforts to meet the present recession produce another inflation, in the cyclical economic pattern that has gone on for years. According to its first policy statement, it would lay plans now to cut federal expenditures, reduce business taxes to stimulate production, decontrol oil prices, and attack federal regulations that produce inflation. Mr. Burns is a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research and educational organization whose views normally reflect Republican thinking.
The Burns group could become on the economic side what the pro-military Committee on the Present Danger is on the defense side.