The battle over presidential budget policy

President Reagan is feeling increasing pressure to take steps to reduce the massive federal budget deficit. Such pressure now comes from Messrs. Gerald Ford, Paul McCracken, Arthur Burns, Alan Greenspan, and Bill Brock, all of whom have the President's ear. They say Mr. Reagan must take the leadership in bringing the deficit down lest, as Ford puts it, ''the recovery be aborted.''

This was the message delivered at the recent annual Gerald Ford World Forum at Vail, Colo. These opinion leaders differed somewhat in what they believed Mr. Reagan should do - and how much he should do. But they agreed that he must seek further spending cuts, particularly in the so-called entitlement programs.

Mr. Brock, Reagan's trade ambassador, said in an interview at Vail that a struggle now is under way among Rea-gan advisers as to what the President's budget policy should be. He said he has told the President there is no time to lose - that he should move quickly to propose a combination of spending cuts, including both entitlements and defense, and new taxes.

Mr. Brock said he has allies for this point of view within the administration , including chief economic adviser Feld-stein and Secretary of State Shultz. But aligned against him, he said, were Secretary of Defense Weinberger and National Security Adviser William Clark. The latter are convinced that the President by bringing up the budget issue again would ''open a Pandora's box'' in which the Congress might decide to take a big bite out of the current defense budget.

There are political advisers, both inside and outside the administration, who are telling Mr. Reagan that an election season is no time to vex voters with spending cuts and higher taxes.

But Mr. Ford's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Paul McCracken, commented at Vail that it ''just might be good politics'' for the President to exhibit the courage needed to propose measures to reduce the deficit. Mr. McCracken said the voters might find Mr. Reagan very presidential if he told them they must make these sacrifices in return for keeping the recovery on track - including the lowering of unemployment, inflation, and interest rates.

Economist Greenspan would like to see the President call a US summit of government leaders of both parties to address what he sees as a growing budget-deficit emergency. Mr. McCracken regards this as a splendid idea. ''Historically,'' he said, ''this country has frequently moved outside the regular government process to solve difficult problems.'' He cited the success of the bipartisan commission that dealt with social security as a recent example.

Mr. McCracken likewise pinpointed Wein-berger and Clark as the main source of resistance to having the President tackle the budget problem. But he also noted a ''new conservative intellectualism'' which says there is nothing wrong with having an immense deficit. He said he feared the President was being highly influenced by that point of view.

Mr. Brock said that supply-sider congressman Jack Kemp was still quite persuasive with the President - despite reports to the contrary. It is Kemp perhaps as much as anyone else, he said, who has kept Mr. Reagan on a course of not seeking new revenue.

The battle over budget policy is heating up. It is understood that Vice-President Bush and chief of staff Jim Baker are on the side of Mr. Reagan jumping into a renewed effort to cope with the budget. They are said to believe that the President should take action on the deficit now lest he be caught with a dragging economy next year that might cost him reelection.

What will Mr. Reagan do? Those who know best how the President comes to decisions tell me that he isn't likely to thrust himself vigorously into a new fight for lowering the deficit. That, they say, is more likely to come at the beginning of a second presidential term - if Mr. Reagan gets another.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.