PRESIDENT Reagan took steps -- and events took place -- last year that could well presage historymaking accomplishments in 1986. Summitry could turn into genuine arms-control developments. Tax revision seems certain to come about in the months ahead; when it comes the President will be given most of the credit for its enactment.
Tax reform has been the main legislative priority on Mr. Reagan's agenda for a long time -- before Rep. Dan Rostenkowski joined in the effort to recast the tax code. And, perhaps unfairly, the public -- and history -- will perceive Reagan to be the one who reshaped and brought about more equity in the imposition of federal taxes. That's what the new tax legislation will provide: not full fairness, but more fairness. It will take millions of poor people off the income tax rolls and close loopholes that will make industries that have avoided paying taxes pay their fair share.
Generally, too, there will be a shifting of the tax burden from individuals to corporations and, for the first time, credible minimum taxes for both individuals and corporations will be set up.
Corporations will protest, asserting that new tax burdens will curb their initiative and force them to cut back on investments, ultimately bringing about a recession.
Thus, being credited for authoring tax reform could turn out to be a deficit for Mr. Reagan. The President thinks otherwise. Economists now are forecasting a healthy, moderately growing economy for the next few years. Anxieties they hold about the future are linked more to the immense budget deficit and trade imbalance than to tax reform.
The President is already attacking the budget deficit. He has to, as required by the new Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation, which makes it mandatory for either Congress or the President to begin to take measures to reduce spending, to enact more taxes, or both.
Tax revision, now set up to be revenue neutral, could be reshaped to provide a considerable amount of new revenue. The question with Reagan, however, is always: Would he agree to go along with tax revision that did provide more funds for the government? He has a record of a long and consistently expressed opposition to increased taxes. Earlier in his administration, he permitted what he called ``revenue enhancements.'' He might do that again. Would he be willing to do an about-face on taxes? That is the big question for 1986. The answer is ``probably not.''
The President would like to make a little political history, too. He is planning heavy personal involvement in the midterm elections coming up.
So, on top of another summit and time-taking engagements with Congress over taxes and revenue, the President will take to the hustings to try to elect more Republicans to office. He aims to change the political coloration of Congress to his point of view and to ward off Democratic gains in the Senate.
The President can read the polls as well as anyone else. He knows that his high standing in these insights into public opinion has already made it abundantly clear that he's confounding those critics who were certain he would be a lame duck by this time. With this kind of popularity Mr. Reagan will be a formidable force right up to the very end.
Reagan wants very much to use his popularity to strengthen the Republican Party. That is -- wholly apart from his own campaigning for candidates during the rest of his time in the White House -- he would like to leave a party that would be reshaped in his political and philosophical image.
Could the Republican Party now, in effect, become the party of Reagan -- just as the Democratic Party for years became the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt? Most observers say this is impossible. But Reagan has achieved the impossible before.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.