In last weeks of presidency, Reagan lauds his record. President ties up loose ends, works to clean slate for Bush
Washington — These are nostalgic, farewell days for Ronald Reagan. With less than two months to go, the President is figuratively packing up at the White House - giving a few speeches summing up his eight years in the Oval Office, tidying up some unfinished administrative business, readying next year's budget, and preparing for his own transition to life in California.
He remains in authority, as George Bush at every occasion takes pains to emphasize, but the power wielders and pundits of Washington are now chasing the President-elect.
``The center of gravity has shifted,'' a White House official acknowledges. ``We are in a transition and the media and public are interested in George Bush and what he's saying and doing. George Bush is now top banana.''
But Mr. Reagan is using these final weeks to articulate what he believes are the accomplishments of his eight-year presidency. In an address to government officials and employees yesterday, he recapitulated a familiar list of achievements on the domestic front. Later this week he travels to Charlottesville, Va., where he will give an address on foreign policy. The State of the Union address early next year will provide still another valedictory occasion.
To a partisan, cheering audience in Constitutional Hall yesterday, Reagan again recalled the mood of ``malaise'' of the Carter years before the ``American people rounded up a posse and swore in this old sheriff.'' He cited the outcome: economic recovery, including the longest peacetime expansion and lowering of inflation; tax reform; a growth of exports as a result of resisting protectionism; a catastrophic-illness plan; and welfare reform.
One of his great disappointments, said the President, is that the ``federal budget itself is not yet balanced.'' As he has many times in the past, Reagan blamed the fiscal problem on Congress as well as the ``iron triangle'' that exists between special interests, government bureaucrats, and members of Congress. He again called on the legislature to give the president more recission authority, requiring congressional action on presidential requests to rescind appropriated funds, as well as the line-item veto. He also asked urged adoption of a balanced-budget amendment.
``Do that, and the federal deficit will be ancient history in no time,'' he declared.
Among other aspects of his legacy, Reagan mentioned his judicial appointments and a trend in the courts toward more regard for victims of crime and away from ``making'' rather than ``interpreting'' the law. He expressed hope the courts in future would decide against the practice of abortion and for prayer in the schools.
He also cited the fight against organized crime and drugs and a ``grass-roots movement'' for better quality of education in the schools.
Meanwhile, the President in recent weeks has been cleaning up some executive matters that were delayed until after the election so as not to cause Mr. Bush any political problems during the campaign. The Farmers Home Administration, for instance, has now sent out notices to some 80,000 farmers who are in default on government loans. The National Journal cites these other ``public interest'' actions:
Pocket-veto of a government ethics bill that would have curbed lobbying activities by former members of Congress and congressional aides as well as by former executive-branch officials.
Drafting of new rules to make it harder to appeal security rulings affecting the sick, disabled, and elderly. These rules would presumably make it easier for the government to reject disputed benefit claims.
Appointment of about 30 ambassadors and other top officials without benefit of confirmation by the Senate, which is in recess. Some of the nominations have been opposed by the State Department and other agencies.
Easing of Labor Department rules against work done in the home, a sensitive issue with organized labor.
Such actions are normal at the end of a presidency, especially when the successor is of the opposite political party. ``It's the last chance to give Christmas presents to your friends or plant some time bombs,'' says Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brooking Insitutiton.
But even in this case the President wants to remove items from the platter that might be politically embarrassing for his successor.
One pending issue, for instance, is the trial of former former White House aide Oliver North. Reagan continues to say that he will not pardon Colonel North. But recently he refused to declassify certain documents that may be needed in the trial of this key Iran-contra figure, leaving open the possibility that the government will have to drop some or all of the charges against North.
``He'll not leave any booby traps for George Bush,'' Mr. Hess says.