JONESBORO, ARK. -- When President Reagan blames the existence of huge budget deficits on Congress, he gets a sympathetic response from Democratic as well as Republican voters in this middle-income southern community.

At every opportunity, even during the recent delicate negotiation with congressional leaders on a deficit-reduction package, Reagan alleges that the red ink accumulated during his own presidency represents a continuation of "50 years" of congressional fiscal irresponsibility.

The reality is quite different: as a result of Reagan's faulty economic policies, analysis and forecasts, the nation has had to endure a record series of deficits, averaging close to $200 billion a year in Reagan's first five years. This has doubled the national debt.

But does the Reagan line blaming Congress sell here? "You better believe it does!" says a member of the Arkansas State University faculty. He notes, nonetheless, that Jonesboro voters are happy when their congressman comes through with additional road-building money around Election Day.

"The Reagan-era deficits have been a sharp departure from prior U.S. experience . . . in size as well as origin," said Harvard professor Benjamin Friedman in recent congressional testimony. No Democrat -- they're supposed to be the "big spenders" -- has ever come close to Reagan. In fiscal 1981, the year before Reagan took office, Jimmy Carter ran a deficit of $57.9 billion, which Reagan denounced. That was the last "two-digit" federal deficit.

This is the Reagan deficit scorecard: fiscal 1982, $127.9 billion; fiscal 1983, $208.9 billion; fiscal 1984, $185.3 billion; fiscal 1985, $212.3 billion; fiscal 1986, $220.7 billion; and fiscal 1987, $148.0 billion.

The myth that Congress is responsible for piling up the red ink is a refinement of Reagan's original rationale, used until 1983. Until then, White House apologists blamed the deficits on recession and on Federal Reserve Board policy, saying we would "grow our way out."

As Princeton economist William Branson notes, it wasn't until the deficit refused to go away, despite economic recovery in 1983, that administration spokesmen latched onto the idea that there is a "structural" deficit.

In fact, the "structural" problems -- created not only for the United States but for the world -- were an outgrowth of Reagan's wild tax-cutting spree in 1981, coupled with a damn-the-expense arms buildup.

Have we all forgotten that Chief of Staff Howard Baker, then the Republican leader in the Senate, characterized the president's 1981 program of cutting taxes and boosting defense expenditures as "a riverboat gamble"? Even George Bush correctly labeled the Reagan tax-cut promises during the 1980 campaign as "voodoo-economics policy and economic madness."

John Palmer and Isabel Sawhill of the Urban Institute, in their "Reagan Record," published in 1984, put it this way: "{The} 'rosy scenario,' as it came to be called, offered the promise that we could simultaneously reduce inflation and stimulate growth; that we could have large cuts in tax rates without a massive revenue loss; that we could strengthen our defense and yet restrain total outlays by attacking domestic fraud, waste and abuse; and that we could balance the budget without economic sacrifice."

But the magical economic growth promised by proponents of this ill-conceived "supply-side" economic theory never developed. Instead, the revenue loss was so great that Sens. Robert Dole and Pete Domenici, working hand in hand with David Stockman, then the budget director, and James Baker, then the chief of staff, sneaked two major tax increases past Reagan as "revenue enhancers."

And where have the spending increases come from? In a soon-to-be published book, Friedman provides a conclusive answer: over the first five years, Congress has added a cumulative total of $72 billion to spending proposed by the administration.

So of the $955 billion added to the national debt over its first five years, the Reagan administration can take credit -- or blame -- for almost $900 billion of it. And more than half of that is in payments on the debt as interest rates soared -- another cost of supply-side economics. (Addition of the sixth fiscal year, not in Friedman's tally, does not alter the picture.)

But mythology dies hard. In Jonesboro and elsewhere in middle America, Democrats remain stuck with the big-spender image. Reagan also promotes the idea that if taxes are raised, the revenue will be dissipated in additional spending. In actuality, in the Reagan years, total appropriations have been less than administration requests.

We should put the deficit monkey where it belongs: on Reagan's back. The deficits are the symbol of the Reagan economic legacy so far. And we still have two fiscal years to go.