Most of the talk around town this week is of deficit reduction, and that is mostly what it is: talk. In the wake of the market's crash of Oct. 19, we are witnessing one of those spasms of virtue that occasionally afflict our statesmen. They are feeling a wild impulse to do something constructive. One day soon they will lie down until the impulse goes away.
Forgive my pessimism. Events may prove me wrong. Maybe, just maybe, both the White House and the Hill have been sufficiently scared. Maybe these high-level negotiations at last will result in effective action -- but don't hold your breath until that happens.
This is because the American people, hypocritical to the core, are unwilling to accept the measures that ought to be imposed. Congress, reflecting that hypocrisy precisely, will abide by the people's wishes. When it comes to increasing revenues or decreasing outlays, the cry is almost universal: ''Don't tax me, tax the other fellow; and don't cut my pet projects, cut somewhere else.'' This is the attitude that has given us a debt of $2 trillion.
President Reagan is basically right. At the federal level, the problem is not with taxation. We are not taxing too little; we are spending too much. And the reason we are spending too much is that the people love the spending. They truly do. Or at least they love the spending that benefits them. What they hate is the idea of paying for it.
Look at the mess we are in. The other day the House Appropriations Committee approved outlays of nearly $55 billion for agricultural and nutritional programs in the 1988 fiscal year. The total includes $24 billion for crop supports and $10 billion for ''rural development.'' The sums are preposterous, grotesque, indefensible -- but they are virtually mandated as the cost of funding programs already on the books.
The time has long since passed when these bloated farm subsidies should have been phased out. One study after another has demonstrated that the great bulk of payments winds up in the hands of the richest farming corporations. Congress has no stomach for turning off the flow of funds. And why not? Because the farmers insist they cannot otherwise survive.
You will hear no squawks from this hawkish corner at the thought of cutting the defense budget. Of course it can be cut -- prudently, safely cut. The armed services wallow in waste. But suppose that a cut involves canceling a contract for a trainer the Air Force positively does not need. Suppose the Pentagon moved to reduce the purchases of prime beef for Army mess halls. Let our boys eat chuck? Heaven forfend! The contract is vital, says a senator from New York. Nothing but the best, says the meat industry. So it goes.
Thinking of cows, let us think of that most sacred of all sacred cows: Social Security. Is there any valid reason why retired persons with high incomes should not be taxed on all their Social Security benefits? No such reason comes to mind, but at the very mention of such a heretical thought, members of Congress turn pale.
The problem is a problem of attitude. Congress will not economize on the big things because it is unwilling to scrimp on the little things. Through the National Endowment for the Arts, the taxpayers are subsidizing local symphony orchestras. Somewhere in the budget is an appropriation for an Endowment for Democracy; it is pure piffle.
Not until Congress gets serious about cutting spending will it be time to act on raising revenues. Maybe Congress is prepared to get serious, but there is not the slightest sign of it yet.