The Reagan budget
You don't have to be a Redskins fan to cheer some of the good news coming out of Washington these days. Leading economic indicators for December registered the eighth rise in the last nine months. Recovery just may be in the making. Then there is President Reagan's budget for fiscal 1984, based on what even Democrats agree are reasonable economic projections of inflation, unemployment, and revenue. Exit the roseate approach taken by Mr. Reagan in previous budgets. Enter a new caution and realism that is salutary for fiscal management.
Euphoria over a couple of touchdowns, however, should not make government leaders complacent about winning the game. Even if recession has bottomed out, the urgency of curbing the soaring federal deficits remains, for recovery means that the private sector will be competing with government for funds. Mr. Reagan's budget still would leave a deficit of $189 billion in fiscal 1984. That figure is too high.It will be up to Congress to find another $30 billion or so in savings and new revenue, and send an unmistakable signal to business that the government is determined to bring the deficits under control.
That should not be impossible, given the President's apparent willingness to compromise and the bipartisan congressional support for a budget holddown. Here is what could be done:
* Cut defense spending more. Under the Reagan budget it would rise by 9 percent in real terms, while nonmilitary programs would shrink by 3 percent. The imbalance is glaring and, most important, unnecessary from a security or an economic point of view. Mr. Reagan has reduced military expenditures by some $ 11 billion over his earlier plans, but that reduction represents largely a holddown on salaries and an adjustment for lower inflation. It should not be difficult to find substantial savings in the procurement of arms, especially weapons of dubious value such as the MX.
* Enact the social security package proposed by the bipartisan presidential commission. In this connection Mr. Reagan's proposals to overhaul the rather generous civil-service retirement program and reduce health care costs also deserve consideration.
* Stick with the tax cut due to begin in July - in order to help stimulate the economy - but find other ways to boost tax revenue. For instance, it might be well to postpone the indexing of income taxes for inflation, scheduled to begin in 1985. In principle, the idea of not allowing taxpayers to suffer from bracket creep and lawmakers to benefit from increased revenues without legislating them is a sound one. But, if rises in cost-of-living increases are to be delayed for pensioners and other beneficiaries (as they would be under the social security reform), it would not be illogical to delay indexation. Mr. Reagan's alternative, a standby tax to begin in fiscal 1986, would simply usurp the responsibility of future congresses.
* Reform the tax system. When will Congress have the gumption to tackle simplification of the tax code for the sake of greater efficiency and more revenue? The reduction of so-called ''tax expenditures'' - such as allowable deductions of mortage interest on more than one home, credit-card interest deductions, some types of shelters - would bring in billions of dollars of new revenue.
As the traditional budget battles begin, it can be expected that heavy pressures will be brought to bear on Congress from many quarters. But, applying a little of that indomitable Redskins spirit to their teamplay, the lawmakers should be able to improve on Mr. Reagan's handiwork. And that - together with a steady, slow forward drive of the economy - would indeed give Americans something to shout about.