In a move that reflects growing GOP doubts about Reagan economic policies, former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. has joined the chorus of Republicans calling for tax increases. Warning that the federal deficit would ``devour'' the nation, the Tennessee Republican said that President Reagan had made a mistake in promising not to raise taxes during the 1984 campaign.
Mr. Baker, who retired last year and is considering a presidential campaign for 1988, predicted that Congress would be forced to deal with the tax hike soon. He also told a breakfast meeting of reporters yesterday, ``I don't think Reagan's going to change'' his adamant opposition to taxes.
As the Senate leader who engineered passage of the Reagan tax reductions in 1981, Baker once called the President's economic program a ``river-BAKER6BAKER1 boat gamble.'' Now that deficits have grown to historic highs, he said, ``I think that the odds on it are not favorable enough'' to continue the White House program unless there are revisions.
If that view sounds like a key point in the failed presidential campaign of Walter F. Mondale, Baker has plenty of company among Senate Republicans.
``The question is not, Are we going to have revenues, but when?'' said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R) of New Mexico, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, after the President rejected a $5-a-barrel oil-import fee.
Senator Domenici took his message directly to the White House during a tense meeting Tuesday between congressional Republicans and the President. As described by a fellow senator, Domenici gave a ``stern'' lecture, charging that the budget deficit would be $165 billion to $180 billion next year.
But the President was ``equally stern'' during the meeting in refusing to change his antitax stand, said Sen. Thad Cochran (R) of Mississippi.
During the session, Mr. Reagan recounted the 1984 campaign and his vow not to increase taxes. Mr. Mondale promised a tax hike while also charging that Reagan would be forced do the same. Since that campaign, Democrats have avoided leading the way on taxes.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said this week that new taxes were inevitable but the Reagan must lead.
So far, only Senate Republicans are moving in what is becoming the dominant dispute for the second Reagan term on domestic affairs. ``There's just this dark cloud that keeps coming up off the horizon,'' said Senator Cochran, who added that he willingly voted for the Reagan tax cuts in 1981 but worries about the results.
Many leading House Republicans, meanwhile, have waded into the dispute on behalf of the President. ``The problem is the Congress,'' said Rep. Trent Lott of Mississippi. The Reagan agenda is that ``deficits do matter,'' said the House GOP whip, but he added that cuts must come from domestic spending and entitlements other than social security.
``I hope that the Senate Republicans will stop complaining and get about the business'' of finishing a budget, said Mr. Lott.
Former Senator Baker conceded that during his recent visit to Spring Hill, Tenn., site of the new Saturn automobile plant, he found that people ``talk about prosperity and social security,'' not about the federal deficit.
But he argued that Congress should pass a tax surcharge that would gradually -- over perhaps 40 or 50 years -- pay off the entire national debt. And he said that he could run a successful campaign on that issue. ``It may be as simple as: Some things only Republicans can do,'' he said, adding that for a Republican to seek a tax increase, ``it's an exercise in realism.''