White House: no assault on Capitol Hill this time
Washington — No storming Capitol Hill this time.
President Reagan, ironically, is putting distance between himself and the special session of Congress he convened.
As the special lame-duck session opened here Monday, Mr. Reagan was in California, addressing a meeting of the National League of Cities. Then it was off to the far side of the equator for a Latin America tour.
Washington's congressional, White House, and foreign affairs experts say they see the President's timeout from Washington as deliberate and opportune:
* Reagan aides need more time to work out what one expert calls a ''pragmatic conservative consensus.'' Divisions within the White House over ''staying the course'' or adopting a more Keynesian approach to revving the economy run deeper than ever. Last week's quickly regretted proposal by Reagan advisers for a tax on unemployment benefits - like talk of social security revision early in the administration - showed that one wing of the Reagan policy operation is still far out of touch with political realities.
* Reagan is going to play more of a waiting game with Congress. Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee apparently has reduced his expectations for much give on budget matters. He says he sees the President holding out for larger defense outlays, while Congress balks at lower domestic spending.
As a result of the impasse, says Senator Baker, Reagan may be willing to live with a larger deficit, and the Federal Reserve Board may come under more pressure as the party responsible for the lagging economy.
As long as Congress stays within Reagan's broad policy boundaries, confrontation will be avoided.
* Reagan may focus most of his attention on foreign affairs during his third year, following the familiar cycle of other presidents once their domestic agendas bog down and reelection looms.
Congressional analysts are already looking beyond this lame-duck session to next year's budget for a sense of the next major battle in town.
''OMB (the President's Office of Management and Budget) has just sent the numbers out to the agencies,'' says one congressional budget official.
''I am told the cuts are Draconian,'' he says. ''But the big question is whether this is a different budget - an attempt to compromise on known objectives such as defense - or a hard-line budget like the others, with deep cuts in social programs.''
cl11 A hard-line budget would send its own signals. ''Congressional leaders will likely proceed to make up a budget on their own, pretend the President's budget doesn't exist,'' says a Hill budget analyst.
''If Reagan comes up with an unacceptable budget, he's saying he doesn't want to take the lead on the acceptable things that have to be done,'' he adds. ''He will let Congress work on it, as long as they don't stray from his fundamental principles such as keeping the third year of the tax cut.''
The White House isn't the only shop in town with divergent views of what to do about the economy. Economic advisers and congressional leaders are also divided in their counsel, say Capitol Hill observers. Acknowledging such a bipolar view of the economy's future makes it no easier for the White House and Capitol Hill to forge a consensus.
''Reagan's looking for a clear set of alternate policies his Cabinet and Congress can agree on,'' says Charles F. Doran, Johns Hopkins scholar. ''There's intense disagreement among his advisors about the new policies.''
Weight in the White House tug of war is moving toward ''the George Bush Republicans,'' Mr. Doran says. Secretary of State George Shultz is not a member of this group, but his views tend to agree with it.
White House chief of staff James Baker, GOP Senators Baker, Bob Dole of Kansas and Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico on the Hill, are seen as part of a coalition trying to move Republican policy in a more pragmatic direction. But other individuals well placed in the White House remain committed to previous ideas.
''A trip of this sort (to Latin America) allows those who are trying to formulate new strategies a little more time, on the domestic front, to work things out,'' Doran says.
''The trip is important to the President not just to tie things together in the aftermath of the Falklands crisis. Pragmatic conservatives recognize supply-side economics is a disaster. They see the need to get the economy moving or '84 will be a disaster. But it's taking tremendous effort to sort out, and to work around entrenched individuals.''