When the Cheering Died

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The President makes his final budget proposals, and the battle begins

"I urge the members of Congress to remember that last November the American people's message was loud and clear. The mandate for change, expressed by the American people, was not my mandate; it was our mandate."

With that ten-ton hint, Ronald Reagan last week sent Congress the second and final installment of his budget-slashing proposals for the next fiscal year. The President's meaning was unmistakable: the public wants deep cuts in both spending and taxes, and any legislator who tries to keep the ax from falling risks putting his own neck under an ax at the polls. But the warning did not prevent opponents in and out of Congress, some of whom had initially seemed stunned into silence by the vigor of Reagan's budget blitz, from recovering their voices. Though Reagan still seems likely to win a great deal of what he wants, it will only be after a fight in which some of his specific proposals could be substantially reshaped.

At first, many cautious Congressmen held off pronouncing judgment on the program until they could see its full dimensions. The White House provided them last week in a 165-page blue-bound book titled simply Fiscal Year 1982 Budget Revisions. The document added $13.8 billion in proposed spending cuts to the $34.8 billion that the President identified in his televised speech to Congress on Feb. 18. It also lengthened the list of programs being trimmed from 83 to nearly 300. Moreover, Reagan proposed a cut of $21 billion, or 14%, in the authority of federal agencies to make or guarantee loans to farmers, small businessmen, consumer cooperatives and a wide variety of other borrowers; many of these loan-guarantee activities are not included in the official budget. The goal: to reduce competition between Government and private borrowers for lendable funds, a rivalry that has helped push up interest rates.

The Administration had to do some scrambling to come up with the new reductions in official spending, since Reagan had hit most of the prime targets in his February message. Some of the new cuts are quite small: for example, $2 million to be saved by closing 38 National Weather Service forecasting stations and $280,000 to be pared by shutting down the National Aquarium in Washington. The biggest saving, $4.2 billion, is a rather empty formality. It results from withdrawing recommendations by Jimmy Carter for new tax credits to states and businesses, credits that had never been enacted and that Reagan was unlikely to accept.

The rest of the proposed reductions, however, are real enough, and bear the new Administration's distinctively conservative stamp. The President deepened several of the cuts he had proposed last month. For instance, on top of the $3.6 billion saved by wiping out the program of hiring the unemployed for public service jobs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, the President now recommends whacking $870 million more off CETA spending by consolidating and trimming a variety of additional youth-employment programs. Reagan had earlier recommended reducing the number of new or rehabilitated federally subsidized housing units from the 260,000 recommended for fiscal 1982 by Jimmy Carter to 225,000; last week the White House proposed a further slash, to 175,000.

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