Here we go again

THAT thud you hear is the sound of President Reagan's fiscal 1989 budget being delivered. Is it budget time again? you may wonder. Didn't we just finish going through this, right before Christmas? Well, yes, and yes.

Federal budgeting has become a virtually never-ending process. The new budget is for the year running from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 1989; that is, from the last of the campaign through the election, the inauguration, and the settling in of the next administration and Congress. And in fact, the budget is already somewhat behind schedule: It was due early last month.

The usual struggles between Congress and the White House might, however, be a little more subdued this year than usual because the minimal deficit-cutting program put together in November covered both the current year and 1989. Some of the tough decisions have already been made.

The $1.09 trillion budget would cut the deficit from the $146.7 billion estimated for 1988 to $129.1 billion, but as usual, the administration is predicating its program on rosier economic projections than those of the Congressional Budget Office. Earlier this month the CBO, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, projected a 1989 deficit of $176 billion, about $40 billion over the ceiling imposed by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law. The projection assumes a ``pronounced slowdown in economic growth,'' as acting CBO chief James Blum told the Senate Budget Committee.

Whatever the actual figures are, they should be enough to give any of the presidential candidates pause on the campaign trail. Indeed, some suspect that Mario Cuomo, Bill Bradley, and some others are sitting out the race on an informed hunch that 1989 may be a tough year to be chief executive of the United States. And meanwhile, Bruce Babbitt, the former governor of Arizona who folded his campaign tent yesterday, will be missed as much for his straight talk on economic policy as for his self-deprecating wit and his common sense in knowing when to say goodbye.

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