RONALD REAGAN'S rich friends may be wondering what to give him for Christmas. I have a suggestion.
Why don't they give him something for his defense budget?
It's something like $222 billion and he hates to cut it. He took $2 billion out, but it hurt. And if he won't whack it any more, his whole economic future can be packed into David Stockman's Trojan horse and put out to sea.
Reagan's friends are generous, we know that. The mere mention of the need to redecorate the White House sent them into a spasm of giving. That gives you a clue. They like to be able to see their tax-deductible dollars at work in a conspicuous place.
Imagine the visibility of a gift of weapons -- especially if there is a war. Your tank, your shell, your plane would have an audience of thousands.
Reagan is constantly reminding us that if we cut the taxes of the rich, they will repay us. They will invest their money in their businesses, hire more people, end unemployment and whip inflation. He has also told us that they will patronize the arts and make life richer and better for all of us.
They don't turn on to day care centers, senior citizens' housing projects or schools. Reagan's rich friends have had their chance to weave a few strands into the safety net, and so far they have spurned it. But just because they won't spring for butter doesn't mean they wouldn't do charity for guns for the Gipper.
Would they not give alms to armaments? How about if they could adopt a tank? The Abrams model costs $3 million. Or what about a pair of matching F16 fighters? They are expensive enough to be in the Neiman- Marcus catalogue. Imagine the thrill of having your name on the fuselage as it streaks aloft.
Maybe Frank Sinatra, the president's favorite minstrel, would like to assume the financial responsibility for the musical side of our defense readiness capability. Military bands come to the tune of $89.7 million. His name could be written on the drums.
It is true that certain items might be a little rich for the blood of the moguls. You take the MX missile. It costs $34 billion, even without its own private subway system. A community effort might be required, but it should not be a problem. The Reagan folks love parties, and a series of MX balls could be held. Let's say it's white-tie, glittering with gold braid and brass, and a million dollars a couple.
Large organizations like the National Rifle Association could take tables. I'm just guessing now, but maybe they would want their slogan -- "Guns don't kill people; people do" -- painted large on the side of one of the new hardened silos being prepared to house the MX.
The big defense contractors might be given complimentary tickets on the donation of just one of their famous cost overruns to the kitty. But I should warn you, they may be a bit sulky now. They may say they gave at the office after what happened to them in the Senate last week.
Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.) got an amendment passed which prohibits them from charging their lobbying costs to us taxpayers. We forked over $11 million to spare them the expense of lobbying Congress for contracts that will enrich them. For instance, Rockwell, which got the B1 business ($22 million), sent us a bill from its Los Angeles division for $653,000, which is what it cost them to influence votes in its favor.
Rockwell may feel put upon if it has to take a congressman to dinner at its own expense. The Pentagon, which agrees with Reagan that fraud and waste are unknown quantities within its walls, is probably embarrassed at this slight to the military-industrial complex.
Bu let us return to the ballroom. Why not have the weapons systems on display to stir the Republicans' martial blood ? Put the Bl next to the orchestra. Maybe Mrs. Reagan's decorator, Ted Graber, could spruce up the interior a bit -- say, flowered curtains at the windows, coordinated carpeting, a solid gold instrument panel. Republicans are bleeding hearts when it comes to decor. Possibly the organizers would want to auction off a cruise in a Trident submarine ($1.2 billion) or a fast ride in an A6E intruder attack plane ($15.5 million).
A display of voluntarism on that order would make it a great Christmas for Ronald Reagan. He hates to see money being frittered away on Medicare, Social Security, on trains, training programs, housing and fripperies of that nature. To those who say the wolf is at the door, he sternly replies that the "window of vulnerability," is open.
If his rich friends don't bail him out, he will have to go in for "revenue enhancement," which is the elegant Reagan term for more taxes, which will make them unhappy. Better they should write checks for the Pentagon for the weapons of their choice.