PRESIDENT Reagan, whatever the criticisms expressed about his policies, has always been regarded as a master of political timing. It is this sense of timing that explains his support for passage of a tax reform package next week by the US House -- even though that support likely means enactment of the Democratic measure crafted by the House Ways and Means Committee. The President's course is correct. Mr. Reagan could not abandon tax reform -- certainly not after giving it the intensive support that he has the past year. If that means, as a first step, winning acceptance of the plan hammered together by Dan Rostenkowski, then so be it, in the eyes of the pragmatic White House. That is not necessarily shortsighted. Comprehensive and genuine tax reform remains a worthy goal.
The President's problem is that most House Republicans remain opposed to the Rostenkowski measure. Their concerns have foundation. The Ways and Means bill, although in many respects an improvement over Treasury II, the administration bill, cannot be considered a genuine tax simplification measure. It leaves many popular tax preferences in place for individuals. But it imposes a tougher tax burden on business at a time when capital formation and continued economic growth are essential.
That said, the tax reform process has to start somewhere. If the House does not pass a bill, it is unlikely that any measure will clear Congress during the final years of the Reagan presidency. The Senate, surely, would draft a measure closer to the administration package -- and to the hearts of House Republicans. And there would be a Senate-House compromise committee.
House Republicans should heed Mr. Reagan's call to keep the tax reform wagon in motion by sending the Rostenkowski package over to the Senate.