The grilling was intense. At times it seemed that the guest, Budget Director David Stockman, was being served for breakfast.
''By pushing for this tax increase,'' a questioner asked, ''was the administration admitting its tax program of 1981 had failed?''
No, answered Mr. Stockman, not at all. He, along with President Reagan, was having to ''swallow hard'' to accept the tax increase proposal. ''It is the price we have to pay,'' he said, for the failure of the Congress to make the desired cuts in spending.
''But,'' a reporter bore in, ''aren't you really conceding that supply-side economics has failed?''
Again Stockman refused to give ground. The massive tax cut had, in his estimation, been necessary, given the sad state of economic affairs left by President Carter. The old, orthodox Republican approach of concentrating entirely on spending cuts and fiscal restraint would not have been sufficient.
Much of the probing centered on the political implications of Mr. Reagan's endorsement of the tax-increase package.
Stockman said again and again that although the vote would be close, ''the President will win.''
But he conceded that the President was taking a big risk in ''laying it on the line'' in behalf of this tax initiative.
He said he thought that if the President loses, the public (and the voters in the fall) would be able to see that it was Congress, not the President, that had been remiss. But he conceded that the President might lose some of his prestige and thus some of his ability to carry on the presidency effectively.
Here Stockman came up with a rather interesting, if convoluted, rationale for blaming the Democrats likely to vote against the tax bill but not the Republicans who oppose it. He said the Democrats, who had failed to support the President's tax-cut initiatives, had the main responsibility now for providing tax revenue to help cut back on the deficit.
''I would be more understanding of those in Congress who, after voting in support of the President's tax cuts, might now feel they could not back tax increases,'' he said. The implication was that these congressmen understandably might believe they had fulfilled their responsibility toward bringing the budget deficit down.
Stockman said it was exceedingly difficult for any member of the House to vote for the tax increase with the election only a few months away.
But he said he believed that in the end ''a majority'' of Democrats and Republicans would vote for the measure simply because they would see it as the right thing to do, as the only route to lowering interest rates and strengthening the economy.
Stockman admitted that even with the tax increase there will still have to be new and big spending cuts next year.
''In defense? In entitlements?'' he was asked. Without being specific, Stockman indicated that something certainly would have to be done about social security. ''However,'' he said, ''we're waiting for the (National Commission on Social Security Reform's) report on that.''