Crucial testing time ahead for Reagan

Eleven months after taking office the Reagan administration faces a series of crises. At home, the nation has recession instead of recovery and unemployment has risen to 8.4 percent.

Abroad, Europeans question the administration's approach to nuclear arms reduction with the Soviet Union and a pacifist movement is developing. Simultaneously, there are problems for Washington in the Middle East, in Central America, and in China.

Some Republican congressmen want President Reagan to take the public into his confidence to head off a critical attitude toward the White House they see developing. The President has had only five formal press conferences, they note, and no recent televised contact with an uneasy public, in the manner of Franklin Roosevelt's radio-era fireside chats. There has been confrontations within the Cabinet and the David Stockman incident, in which the budget director confided to a magazine that he questioned Mr. Reagan's economic policy. Mr. Stockman has since recanted and retains his post.

All this adds up to a ''crisis'' in the new administration at this point, some observers argue. They see the euphoria of the campaign, the victorious election, and so-called ''honeymoon'' period confronting hard reality, and the division of authority in government between Congress and president threatening deadlock and delay.

The coming test for Reagan, as seen here, probably will center on the presentation of a new budget to Congress next month. It could forecast the degree of success of his administration. A president must rely on his credibility; if he loses the confidence of voters, then his problem may be difficult. Opinion polls indicate some slippage in his support, but his personal popularity remains high.

As the Reagan administration loses the momentum of the campaign, it finds that instead of producing a business boom with its supply-side tax cuts there is a recession. The stock market fell 14 percent between mid-August and mid-September, economist Herbert Stein noted to the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Workers who don't understand the fine points of economics had hoped the job market would improve rather than deteriorate. There is uncertainty elsewhere: Peter Solomon, a partner in Lehman Brothers, told the New York Times Oct. 25, for example, ''The business community was fundamentally against the tax cut; they believed it was inflationary and defied human experience.''

A group of conservative GOP senators, on the stationery of Jesse Helms of North Carolina, circulated a letter urging Reagan to appear on paid telecasts to explain the nation's problems. ''The survival of the free-enterprise system may depend upon it,'' they say.

The President is a communicator of the first rank, Washington notes. Yet Franklin Roosevelt held two press conferences a week; Reagan has averaged only about one every two months.

The popularity of most presidents shows attrition after the first year, and this has been true of Reagan, although a substantial majority continues to support him. A CBS-New York Times Poll Sept. 29 gave his favorable standing at 53 percent, compared with 67 percent in April. In a similar poll by the Washington Post and ABC-TV, a majority approved the President but felt that his policies were aiding ''upper-income people'' rather than the poor.

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