Barrage of issues, at home and abroad, confronts President
Washington — To many it seems that President Reagan has reached a critical point in his incumbency.
* On the economic side signs indicate the beginning of a recovery and one without inflation, but with an untenable 11.3 million workers still unemployed.
* In the Middle East weeks of patient negotiation by Secretary of State George P. Shultz have brought an agreement for troop withdrawal between Israel and Lebanon, although Syria's participation remains a grave question mark.
* In Central America, government forces and guerrillas in El Salvador and Nicaragua have regrouped, with the United States still unable, as yet, to achieve stability in the region.
* In Congress, Senate and House are as yet unable to reach agreement on a spending program in the face of a threatened budget deficit of $200 billion annually.
* And on the nuclear scene, Europe is the setting for a fundamental test of wills between NATO powers and the Soviet Union, with the United States prepared to distribute additional nuclear arms unless a way to agreement is found.
Not often have so many crises surfaced at once. Some pleas came to Mr. Reagan to take a stronger hand. Others favored the piecemeal approach.
Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, hoped that Mr. Reagan might get more involved in the budget debate. He recently referred to the near-collapse of the congressional budget process: ''I hope the President might indicate that he'd like to be a party to the budget process'' he said, ''even though it's a congressional discipline. It's not a spectator sport.'' Inevitably, an analysis of White House leadership is under way in the press and in the halls of government.
The mood in Washington has grown more tense in recent weeks. A series of presidential speeches have spawned questions on Mr. Reagan's role, both in the Washington decisionmaking process and in the political process. Meanwhile, Mr. Reagan has emphasized the favorable side of the economic news.
The President's scheduled Tuesday night televised press conference will be the first in three months. It is assumed it will clarify the administration position on US policy toward arms control, the immediate budget deadlock, and Central America. He was also expected to argue the administration's stand on deployment of the MX missile.
President Reagan used the opportunity of a speech to the National Association of Home Builders on Monday to comment on the budget stalemate. He did not resolve the basic question, however. Reagan argues that the 10 percent income tax cut scheduled for July 1, the third and final reduction under his 1981 plan, should remain intact to keep the nation on a pathway to recovery. Critics, on the other hand, note that reduced taxes are likely to extend or enlarge the federal deficit, now unparalleled save in wartime.
Reagan shifted emphasis to denounce ''those intolerable budget deficits'' and called on Congress to ''join in a bipartisan effort to cut irresponsible spending.'' But the critical point remained undecided: Will the President modify his own tax-cut program, which has been a centerpiece of his presidency? In Congress last week, efforts collapsed in the Republican-controlled Senate to pass a budget resolution for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Most feel the current budget process is unsatisfactory and that it should be tightened lest inflation return.
Appeals for stronger Reagan leadership have grown. A front-page column of the Wall Street Journal last week reported ''GOP concern about Reagan's grip on major issues.''
Reagan seems to be taking cognizance of this; his press conference will likely be a response to it. Senator Dole's statement that it is time for the President ''to become a participant in the budget process'' may have a prodding effect.
Reagan has received criticism from abroad, as well. The London Economist argues that he may be getting inadequate briefing and ''shows, at times, surprising lack of care with his own administration's official statements of policy.''