As November 1984 draws closer, Democrats are jostling to produce an economic strategy that would redefine their party's alternative to Reaganomics and persuade Americans that there are Democratic answers to today's economic ills.
The latest, and perhaps boldest attempt to outline such an alternative came this week from a group of 150 congressional Democrats, representing just over half of the 266 Democrats in the House. These Democrats, led by liberal Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.), presented House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill with an economic plan that they said was designed to "break with over a decade of recessionary economics, drastically reduce the budget deficit, increase employment and restore America's international competitiveness."
But although the group makes up a majority of the House Democrats, its plan does not have the endorsement of the leadership and is not an official Democratic Party document. O'Neill has appointed Democratic Whip Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash), who is not a part of Ottinger's group, to oversee the development of economic recovery legislation for the leadership.
Moreover, there are many gaps left to be filled in the Ottinger group's plans.
Among the initiatives proposed by the group are:
* Less restrictive monetary policy and lower interest rates;
* Federal Reserve Board measures to discourage lending for "unproductive purposes" and encourage lending for productive investment;
* Creation of a new national "capital budget" for public investment in road, water and other infrastructure; with a new agency to "coordinate and organize the many, disparate federal investment programs" that now exist.
* Repeal of many of the 1981 Reagan tax cuts, particularly those that benefit business and upper income groups, and a cut in the projected defense buildup. They propose an increase in defense spending in fiscal 1984 of 3 percent after inflation.
An anti-inflation incomes policy, not detailed in the statement, together with special measures to increase energy efficiency, and a proposal for government reserves of oil and grain in case of future shortages that could fuel inflation.
Programs to boost housing construction and renovation and hold down mortgage interest rates.
The group's overall aim is to stimulate growth and boost jobs, Ottinger's administrative assistant John Dineen said. Instead of fighting inflation with tight monetary policy, they say that "preventive action" should be taken to stop rapid price increases in the key areas that contributed heavily to the inflation of the 1970s: energy, food, housing costs and health care.
Dineen acknowledged that there could be problems in winning support for the kind of policies that the group advocates, but pointed to the already large number of Democrats in the House that have been willing to sign the general statement of principles released this week.
The next step is a comprehensive legislative package that would embody the goals of their joint statement, he said. They expect to do this well before the end of this year, and are already moving to support legislation in three areas. The first two involve bills already before the House: one that proposes a national capital budget and one a national development bank. Thirdly, Ottinger plans to introduce a bill to set up an oil reserve that would be used to check sharp increases in oil prices.
Economist Gar Alperovitz is senior economic adviser to the group, which has been working on its "National Economic Recovery Program" for nearly two years.