How will women, as a group, fare under the Reagan administration's proposed budget cuts?

It's all a matter of perspective, if you were asking members of the small though highly vocal Congresswomen's Caucus at a reception last night to kick off a public drive for operating funds.

Said the Republicans: Better -- once inflation is under control.

Said the Democrats: Poorly.

Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) cited a new study, sponsored by the Congresswomen's Caucus Institute and researched by George Washington University, that identified older women as the fastest-growing poverty group in America.

"It's one of the most serious problems facing this country today, really devastating," she said, pausing to pose for pctures with her daughter Jamie and Ellen Sulzberger Straus. Straus and her husband, former Voice of America director Peter Straus, hosted the party for the 19-member caucus.

"A lot of the cuts we're hearing about will make women's existence worse," continued Schroeder, who is co-chair of the caucus which, like everything else these days, is strapped for money. "Whether you're looking at pensions, social security, Medicare or Medicaid, all those things fall heaviest on the heads of older women who are least flexible and [least] able to deal with it."

Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.), who said she was disappointed that no women in the Reagan administration have any effect on policy, also predicted tough times ahead. Since women are the prime users of many federal social-services programs, she said she expects the federal hiring freeze will be "especially hard on them."

Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, the anti-busing Los Angeles Republican who defeated James Corman ("I know he'd like to claim Carter did it, but the Los Angeles Times took a poll and found no substantial evidence for it"), said the best hope for women rests in the control of inflation.

"Women have so many problems in opportunities to compete that they're severely affected by inflation and lack of jobs," she said. "I think the president's proposals will help women substantially. There's been too much political payoff in terms of decisions that have been made over the past 10 years. That has to stop.We have to make decisions that are fiscally responsible."

There was at least one bright note, Rep. Margaret Hecker (R-Mass.) hastened to point out.

"This is the first Republican tidal wave that's ever washed Republican women into Congress. We've increased by 100 percent. Now we are 10," she said.

Privately, Heckler, who is the other co-chair of the caucus, had a little trouble disguising her frustration over Reagan's failure so far to name women to key administration jobs.

"Sen. [Nancy] Kassebaum and I have asked for an appointment with the president. And on the subject of recruitment I intend to bring a vast number of qualified Republican women to his attention," said Heckler.

Earlier, Fiedler, a former Democrat who bolted the party 10 years ago feeling its fiscal policy was "bankrupt," had indicated that the matter of "qualified Republican women" was something of a problem. In talks she's had with administration recruiters, she said, her impression was that "many of the best-known women, particularly in law, were fairly liberal Democrats whose philosophy is in conflict [with the Reagan administration]."

"I think they really looked hard," she said, "and I'm not convinced that they're finished."

She called the lopsided male majority in Congress "symbolic" of what's happening in the business world. "Men at the top have picked mirror images of themselves rather than give opportunities to capable women to move up."

Pat Schroeder was holding forth on the other side of the second floor drawing room in the historic Southwest Washington townhouse to which Ellen and Peter Straus commute weekends from New York and WMCA radio (she is president; he is chairman).

"If I were a Republican woman I'd be really upset that the major woman appointee is a) a Democrat and b) living in New York," said Schroeder of United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.

There was some other "bad" news, she told the crowd that included Reps. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Lindy Boggs (D-La.), Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) and White House social secretary Mabel Brandon, the only high-level White House woman appointee at the party.

"With only 200 more, we'll be a majority in the House. And then of course we have to add how many more we need in the Senate, which is only 49."

The good news, continued Schroeder, was the package of economic legislation the caucus has put together . . . "a bipartisan effort because we understand that economic issues as they affect women are really some of the most serious things in this country."