Reagan talks tough -- and he means it
Washington — President Reagan has gone directly to the people to get his economic program enacted. In his Feb. 18 speech before a joint session of Congress Mr. Reagan clearly was looking over the heads of his immediate audience to the millions of television viewers as he advised the senators and representatives assembled in front of him:
"The people are wathing and waiting."
For members of Congress who might be inclined to draf their feet in support of his proposals, the President had a challenge:
"Have they an alternative which offers a greater chance of balancing the budget, reducing and eliminating inflation, stimulating the creation of jobs, and reducing the tax burden?"
Again, from what Reagan, himself, calls his own "Bully Pulpit," the President was reminding the members of Congress that the American people were listening and that if any of the lawmakers were set on making trouble for him on the spending-cutting plan -- well, they might well upset their own voter constituencies back home.
Thus, Reagan is playing big-power politics, right from the outset of his administration.
He is always amiable, never less than a gentleman as he moves to put his plan into effect. But his words are tough. The deep slashes in spending he intends will make millions of people shout "ouch" when they come to see what he has in mind.
Furthermore, Mr. Reagan is playing the hardest kind of hardball when he says to Congress, in effect, "You come along or the people are going to throw you out of office the first chance they get."
How is the President doing?
At the beginning anyway he seemed to have Congress, in a relative sense, of course, eating out of his hand.
That's because, already, the Democratic opposition has heard the message from home. They heard it when the voters punished some of the most visible liberals who were up for election. When Senators Church, McGovern, Bayh, Nelson, and Culver went down to defeat, the explanation seemed clear, for all to see and to heed.
Thus, at first anyway, the growling from members of Congress who would be expected to shout that Reagan was out to ruin the nation by dissolving the New Deal was more proforma than emotional. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said this. Speaker of the House Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. and other liberals clearly have their anxieties about the Reagan cutting program -- they are worried that the poor will be damaged the most by the reductions.
But the great debate that was being predicted, with Reagan up against a fighting, passionately involved, liberal contingent in Congress has yet to take on that flavor -- if it ever does.
Instead, Congress -- and Democratic leaders everywhere -- are voicing their disagreements with Reagan quite civilly and talking more about compromise than stubborn resistance.
And the compromises that the liberals are talking about seem to be compromises at the President's terms.
Thus, there is every evidence -- at least at first -- that Reagan will get a substantial part of his economic-legislative package.
And when it happens -- and if it happens, of course -- the President will be probably positioned to call it a Reagan victory.