The Kemp-Roth bill has become a kind of touchstone to a key question that fascinates Washington: Will Ronald Reagan move "left" or "right"? This proposed legislation would stimulate America's economy now by tax cuts (compensated in part by expenditure reductions) in spite of current federal deficits and heavy inflation.
Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York, dynamic former quarterback of the Buffalo Bills who, with Sen. William V. Roth (R) of Delaware, launched the radical doctrine of raising federal revenues by cutting taxes, says the President-elect will push Kemp-Roth.
Caspar Weinberger, intimate of Reagan, and exponent of conventional balance-the-budget economics, agrees that the new president will back Kemp-Roth. The difficulty is that the two spokesman are not talking about precisely the same thing.
Washington sits on its chair edge. It is euphoric over the way Reagan has charmed the city in his recent visit here. The stock market has bounced up. There is a "Reagan rally." At the same time there remains confusion: the traditional confusion, some say, of the system of electing a president first and finding out about him after.
In one interpretation, Kemp-Roth is as radical as anything since Maynard Keynes. In another, it is just a elaboration of traditional economic proposals with emphasis on the so-called "supply side" -- which means salvation by increased national productivity.
As Reagan continues cabinet-building from his pre-inaugural perch in California, the elements of a major dispute take shape here, which some feel may decide the direction of the new administration.
Mr. Weinberger, who is in line for a Reagan cabinet post, in a television interview gave the most specific account yet of the President-elect's economic views. There "hasn't been the slightest weakening" of support for Kemp-Roth, he declared. Then he added: "It is perfectly true that along with this major tax cut of 10 percent across the board for three years running, the governor also strongly is in favor of substantial reductions in the rates of federal spending. They are linked together."
At breakfast with reporters here Nov. 26, Mr. Kemp, who rattles off economics like a quarterback barking football signals, also insisted that Reagan will continue to stress Kemp- Roth. He likened the alternative program -- curbing inflation by austerity -- to the "economics of Herbert Hoover."
Washington still sits on the edge of its chair.
Weinberger urges Reagan to "send a signal" to the United States and the world that will end "inflationary expectations" for all times. He says the new administration should start "drastically and dramatically" to cut government expenditures, increase productivity, balance the budget, and reduce government spending. He declares flatly:
"The engine, the principal engine, that drives inflation is excessive government spending."
As the situation rests, Kemp-Roth backers emphasize tax cutting plus reduced spending and traditionalists emphasize reduced spending plus tax cutting. Both sides are eager, urgent, and vocal. Both urge a quick signal to the nation. Whether it is just a difference of emphasis or a basic cleavage Governor Reagan must decide.