President Reagan is ready to push forward with social legislation desired by conservatives - including antibusing, school prayer, and antiabortion measures - despite a slim chance for victory on these issues this year.
James A. Baker III, the President's chief of staff, said in a Monitor interview that Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. has agreed to bring up the issues early in the legislative session. He noted that Congress, with presidential backing, had already made a move to curb busing.
Asked whether losses in this area might slack the momentum needed by the President to put through his controversial $758 billion budget package, Mr. Baker replied, ''Maybe.''
But he added that if the President spent time worrying about being hurt politically, he would never let social issues surface in his first term. Mr. Reagan has ''a commitment'' to carry through on this, and the current push for legislation represents his convictions - convictions he has held for a long time , says Baker.
The President is already off and running in his effort to sell the budget, meeting with congressional leaders and making sales pitches on a quick trip to Minneapolis, Des Moines, and Indianapolis.
Baker refused to accept that defeat on social legislation is inevitable. He acknowledged, however, that Mr. Reagan might lose cc13psome Republican support on these issues.
''But,'' he added, ''there were places last year when we lost Republicans. We lost Republicans on AWACS, but we won the battle.''
Although Baker did not say so, politics doubtless played a part in the Reagan decision to please conservatives by pushing for action on busing and the other issues. Even if he loses (and whatever happens to these bills in the Senate, there seems no disposition in the House to pass them), he will help bring conservatives back into the coalition he needs to pass economic legislation.
The President is unwilling to accept the argument, coming even from some Republicans, that his program to reshape the government is stalled.
He has issued orders of full steam ahead - letting his troops know that he fully expects to put new spending cuts and the beginning of his new federalism into place.
Baker said that it was ''unrealistic'' to expect Reagan ''to continue to win them all.''
But he said the President has every expectation of pulling the congressional GOP-Democratic conservative coalition together sufficiently to keep the Reagan counterrevolution to the New Deal moving forward.
Baker also disclosed the following:
* As the chief White House shaper of the coalition, Baker is already actively wooing these two groups. He says there are ''problems'' this time - that the coming together will be much more difficult than last year.
''But,'' he said, ''the President still enjoys a vast reservoir of goodwill, of personal goodwill, out there in the country. I think that when push comes to shove, Republicans will stand up and back this Republican President.
''And I think the conservative 'boll weevils' (conservative Democrats) will back him too - on a philosophical basis. Many of them would like to see this President succeed because he's setting about doing things that they think need to be done for this country.''
* The Reagan position is to refuse to accept the thesis, some of it coming from fellow Republicans, that he will stand to lose less politically if he doesn't attempt too much this year.
''I think,'' said Baker, ''you have to take note of the fact that this President accomplished something historic last year. He won seven legislative battles without losing any. It doesn't stand to reason that he will continue to win and not ever lose. Sooner or later we are going to lose a legislative battle.''
''But,'' he added, ''having said all that, I think we will win our share in 1982. It will be tougher. It's an election year. And it's a lot harder to keep the coalition together and keep the troops in line.''
Excerpts from the interview follow:
When will the President face his first test in Congress on his new economy-related initiatives?
One of the toughest and one of the earliest tests will be on the question of the budget resolution. Then at some point a very tough test will be the debt-limit bill. There are a number of pieces of legislation that we will face before we get to those. But those are the first pieces of broad economic legislation.
How about the new federalism? When will you face votes on that?
We've already said that we don't expect this to be accomplished in one year. It's a very broad, bold initiative. There may be some votes on certain aspects of it by summertime at the earliest. It's a major program and we still have a lot to do to get it ready.
Turning to some other subjects. First, what do you say to the story that you are leading a little conspiracy to get rid of conservatives in the White House - like Richard Allen and Martin Anderson?Well, that's simply not true. And when you look at the players here you would be hard put to believe that somehow I have undue influence within this White House.
You ought to consider, for instance, that of the four people who have immediate access to the President, three of these people have been with him for 16 years. So how can anyone say we don't have Reaganites in the White House?
How can anyone suggest that the one person who hadn't been with him for 16 years is somehow controlling the others? It's ridiculous.
On the subject of leaks: What leaks are you trying to plug now and how are you going to do so?
Well, all presidents get frustrated with leaks. And this President is just as concerned about them as other presidents have been. It's a very difficult problem. We recognize that it is. And we also recognize that there's no easy answer or easy solution.
The recent directive put out with respect to classified information will make it a little easier to determine what public official has access to classified information. And disclosure of classified information is a crime.
So you are policing the source -- not restricting reporters.
No, we don't intend to do anything to restrict reporters.Does your pollster, Richard Wirthlin, have any new information on how Reagan is doing?
The President enjoys a larger reservoir of goodwill from the public since Eisenhower -- and that continues to show up in our polls. His job rating is in the 50s. But his personal approval is higher than the 50s.