Reagan program: big victory behind, big 'hill' ahead; Democratic strategy: 'Pick up pieces' after Reagan economic plan collapses
Washington — A "pick up the pieces" strategy is gaining ground among Democratic Party leaders, both here and around the United States. This approach stems mostly from liberal Democrats who are convinced President Reagan's economic package will fail in a few months and that public support then will flow back in their direction.
Part of this plan has been for liberals to put up symbolic legislation to make clear their position in behalf of humanitarian programs -- as a reference point for reminding the American people later where they stood as Congress moved toward untried Reagan, supply-side solutions.
Thus, the Congressional Black Caucus introduced a bill that cut deeply into military spending in order to provide more money for education, job training, housing assistance, food stamps, and child nutrition.
Also, Rep. David R. Obey (D) of Wisconsin introduced legislation to increase funds for social programs.
Both bills lost by lopsided margins.
Veteran observers here make these assessments of this emerging Democratic approach:
* It is not so much a strategy as a response, one conditioned by an acknowledgment that there is nothing the Democrats can do to derail the Reagan initiatives, certainly not those that relate to cutting spending.
* Even if the Reagan approach falls short of its goals, Democrats may find it difficult to persuade voters to go back to the old way of doing business in Washington.
* President Reagan has gained the initiative, a momentum that could carry him through his entire administration -- particularly if he is able to provide the public with some evidence that his approach is stimulating the economy, putting a damper on inflation, and keeping the lid on joblessness.
* The Democrats can never permit the "pick up the pieces" approach to surface as a stated political policy. It might sound to voters as if some party leaders were not just predicting but actually hoping the Reagan plan would fail. It might be interpreted as a wish that the nation would fall on bad times on which the Democrats could build a resurgence.
* The "pick up the pieces" ploy seems reflective of a party that is bankrupt of strategy and extremely weak on political policy.
To make such an approach work there must be more than a Reagan failure; there must be a Democratic alternative that truly shapes a new course. Up to now, such an alternative has not been visible.
* Some observers are contending that the passive response of the Democrats plays right into the hands of a Republican Party on the move.
These observers cite recent polls that show a decided jump among voters who identify themselves as Republicans, indicating that if this trend continues a few more years, the GOP will be on nearly even terms with the Democrats.
They also point to signs that the Democratic Party campaign organization is decidedly inferior to its Republican equivalent.
One political analyst sizes up the situation this way:
"You can't beat something with not hing. And 'nothing' is about all the Democrats are throwing up against the Republicans these days."