Democratic liberals reacted with dismay and Republicans with delight today to Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown's call for stringent national and state policies designed to control inflation.
"During the Proposition 13 debate I invited Brown to join the Republican Party," quipped Senate Republican leader William Campbell. "It looks like he accepted the invitation."
In a second-term inaugural speech Monday night, Brown called upon Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget -- which some economists fear would cause a recession. He said the states should demand a constitutional convention for the purpose if Congress refuses to act.
Brown also proposed a $1 billion state tax cut, atop a similar cut last summer, and said he would back a state constitutional initiative to limit state and local government spending.
On Wednesday the governor will follow up his appeal for fiscal conservatism by presenting a state budget that, among other things, reduces previously approved cost-of-living increases for the state's 1.2 million welfare recipients from 15.7 percent to 6 percent. The welfare recipients received no increases last year because of the budget cut that came in the wake of voter approval of Proposition 13.
Supporters and foes alike appeared a bit stunned today by the boldness of the governor's fiscal conservatism.
Newly elected Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb praised Brown for advocating "Republican principles," and California AFL-CIO leader John Henning called the Brown inaugural address "warmed-over Herbert Hoover."
A former aide to Brown's predecessor, Ronald Reagan, said, "It was the kind of speech we would never let Reagan get out of the office with." Assemblyman Willie Brown, a leading Democratic liberal, called the inaugural address "marvelous political entertainment that made me think Jerry was seeking the Republican nomination for president."
But Willie Brown and seven other California legislators found nothing entertaining about the proposed welfare cuts. The black caucus members, none of whom attended the Brown inaugural address, met with the governor today and urged higher welfare payments.
Assembly Speaker Leo T. McCarthy, the legislature's most influential Democrat, declined comment on the Brown speech but already has vowed to fight the welfare cutbacks.
McCarthy said he tried to talk Brown out of the welfare cuts on three occasions without success. Last week McCarthy predicted that Brown wouldn't have 12 votes among the 120 California legislators for his welfare cutback, which goes far beyond the reductions desired even by most Republican legislators.
However, McCarthy, who is widely viewed as a candidate for governor in 1982, has proposed a $1 billion tax cut measure of his own. Brown observed today that the legislature will find it difficult to make a cut of this magnitude without the $300 million annual savings his reduced welfare budget would provide.
In a budget briefing, Brown calmly criticized reporters who pressed him on the reasons for welfare reductions.
"You are attacking welfare recipients by describing an increase as a cut," Brown told one reporter. He said to another: "It is not a cut -- we are prisoners of Orwellian confusion."
However, legislators of all persuasion regard the Brown proposal as a cut. They point out that new legislation will be required to reduce the scheduled 15.7 percent increase.
Brown's proposal for a national constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget was treated by legislators as almost exclusively political rather than economic. Not one legislator interviewed bothered to question the debatable economic premise that balancing the federal budget is a workable goal. Some economists think it would cause a massive recession.
The view among legislators of both parties was expressed by Assembly Speaker Pro Tem John T. Knox, a veteran Democratic liberal, when he said that the call upon Congress for a balanced budget would have "therapeutic value."
But Knox and other liberals balked at Brown's call for a constitutional convention. "I'm not convinced that it would be easy to limit a convention to a single item," Knox said. "Nobody knews who would develop the rules of such a convention or what it would do. It's absolutely frightening."