Budget lag could stall GOP
Washington — President Reagan's impasse with his own party's leaders on the 1984 budget poses serious political risks for the GOP. Quick breakup of the budget logjam is needed to keep the fledgling recovery going, key Republicans warn. One reason the recession held on so long last year, they say, was Washington's failure to strike a prompt pact on taxes and spending.
Without a sustained recovery this year and next, GOP election prospects in 1984 - particularly in the industrial Midwest - could be dismal, GOP strategists warn.
Mr. Reagan's differences with his own party on the budget reflect the fact that the GOP congressional and presidential elections next year are headed on somewhat different tracks.
The White House is more concerned with preserving Reagan's 1980 voter base - which tends to be male, Southern, and oriented toward social issues. Senate GOP moderates look to a somewhat different regional and issue base - the older Northeast and Midwest industrial heartland, and particularly women voters, many of whom continue to be estranged from Reagan on issues such as arms control.
The White House plays down the budget impasse. Reagan's people say they would prefer no budget resolution at all rather than one which compromises fundamental Reagan positions. (The overall spending and tax blueprint would cover the fiscal year that starts this October and ends just before the '84 election.) The White House won't accede to higher taxes, yield its third-year tax cut (set to start this July), or go much below a 7.5 percent defense increase - concessions demanded on Capitol Hill by moderates who hold the swing votes - without losing face, Reagan staffers say.
Specifically, the fear of losing face has less to do with il15l,0,13l,5ppride , or even principle, in this instance. It has more to do with raw political leverage, the image of a president as leader of his own party and in command of Capitol Hill. Four years ago at this time, Jimmy Carter was on the skids with voters, in large part because his own party ignored his command on the then-central domestic issue, energy.
Now the Reagan White House, having failed to compromise on an overall package earlier, must fall back on a strategy of vetoing congressional attempts to build a budget piecemeal.
Few Washington professionals fault Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr.'s handling of the budget. ''You couldn't ask for a better leadership,'' says John Sears, a GOP political strategist. ''You have to give Howard Baker tremendous credit.'' Senate Republicans have been far more ''unruly'' in the past, he adds.
''If there had been some exchange (between the White House and Senate) earlier, you wouldn't have had as many Republicans jump off'' the White House track, Mr. Sears says. ''The White House hasn't been as involved as it should be. On the defense side, a quick move to compromise on 7.5 percent would have been great months ago. Now it's difficult to get 5 or 6 percent.''
The struggle among Republicans over defense spending is basically one of perceptions, says Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Numbers like ''7.5 percent'' and ''6 percent'' have become a shorthand for politicians' relative emphasis on arms and peace. Congressmen who now differ with the White House on overall defense spending numbers might eventually agree more closely on specific military appropriations, Mr. Lugar says.
But some Republican senators, seeing their party narrowly miss losing control of the Senate to Democrats last fall, seriously differ with Reagan on the signals they want sent to the public.
''Americans feel more comfortable when they see their presidents extending themselves to achieve peace,'' said party strategist Sears at a breakfast session with reporters Friday.
While foreign policy issues alone seldom decide presidential elections, Sears says, the way a president handles foreign policy and defense gives the public crucial insights into his leadership.
While Reagan cannot fairly be called a warlike leader, Sears says, his requests for greater arms expenditures inevitably break down into debate on Capitol Hill.
The sooner the budget impasse is resolved, the better the prospect for economic recovery, GOP strategists say.
A quicker pace of recovery is most crucial in the industrial Midwest, usually a key to GOP presidential prospects. Unemployment, which lags in recovery cycles , is deepest in the Midwest.
If unemployment, now 10.2 percent nationwide, sinks below 9 percent and begins to head downward, this would be a positive sign for Reagan. But the Midwest may not benefit as much as the rest of the nation in a recovery.
''If the recovery stalls out, you're going to have a catastrophic political situation (for the GOP),'' Sears warns.
Winning Republican presidential candidates have normally carried 75 of the industrial Midwest's 100-plus electoral votes - usually Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and sometimes Michigan.
''Right today the Republicans couldn't be sure of carrying any of them,'' Sears says