President Reagan's budget architects have put together an extraordinary package of proposed budget cuts touching every level of American society and dismantling dozens of popular federal aid programs that support everything from school lunches to airports, public television and welfare.
The sweeping nature of the spending cuts being considered by the Reagan administration is outlined in documents prepared as prelude to presentation of the president's economic policy program Feb. 18 and obtained yesterday by The Washington Post.
The budget documents, prepared by David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan White House, were circulated confidentially last week among key senators and House members who will preside over the budget and appropriations action this spring.
For example, the Stockman budget book proposes for fiscal 1982:
A massive revamping and rewriting of federal school aid policy, with a consolidation of at least 57 programs into a scheme of block grants that would go to the states to spend as they see fit. But the school aid would be reduced by 20 percent from what the states receive.
A $990 million reduction in child nutrition programs on top of at least a $400 million cut proposed by the Carter administration.
The abolition of the Economic Development Administration, including all its $425 million in loan guarantees, an end to the $3.7 billion public service jobs (Comprehensive Education and Training Act) program, and shutdown of the Appalachian Regional Commission and nine other sister regional commissions.
A $1.3 billion reduction in highway, rail, airport and mass transit aid that would doom completion of the full 101-mile Washington Metro subway system.
House Democrats tomorrow will get, by courtesy of the Democratic Study Group (DSG), a first look at these probable budget slashes totaling $26.2 billion. Another $10 billion to $20 billion worth of reductions are anticipated before Reagan formally sends his unprecedented budget changes to Capitol Hill.
The early delivery of the detailed cuts -- obtained independently by the DSG -- seems certain to set the tone for what will be a knock-down, dragout brawl over Reagan's efforts to scuttle dozens of aid programs that have acquired forceful advocates during the last two decades. Even in the Senate, now controlled by the Republicans, a melee is assured. "We don't interpret Reagan's victory last fall as a mandate to scuttle all these programs," said an aide to a key tax-writing Democrat.
While some of the details of the budget proposals have filtered out sporadically in recent days, the full scope of the sharp alteration in federal support for so many activities -- and the pain they are certain to cause -- leaps from the pages of Stockman's catalogue of cuts.
Stockman yesterday declined to comment on the specifics of OMB's proposals, saying only, "It's all still in the option stage, but the options are firming very quickly."
President Reagan, who has approved many elements in the program already, must clear these and other issues this week in order to meet his timetable for his economic message to Congress in 10 days.
Another unusual side to the Stockman proposals is the "probable reaction" assessments sketched out by OMB draftsmen as part of the presentation and defense of the projected slashes. On most proposals, the OMB foresees stiff opposition from Congress, state and local, business and social welfare organizations.
Even at that, however, the GOP White House apparently is counting on support from friendly Democrats to carry through with the swing of the cleaver. In contemplating a $671 million chop of aid to families with dependent children (AFDC), for example, OMB says the likelihood of winning "seems good," with leadership expected from Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), who until this year was chairman of the Finance Committee.
The sweeping changes proposed in the energy area total $6.4 billion, with the budding synthetic fuels program virtually wiped out. Support for solar energy and energy conservation are more than cut in half.
The reduction of $712 million in synthetic fuels money in 1982, and much larger reductions in loan guarantees, is justified on the grounds that the private sector can do the job and that it is not up to the federal government to build synfuels plants.
As for an assessment of the probable backlash, the OMB documents state: "The proposed actions would be strongly opposed by project sponsors and the array of business and labor interest that would benefit from [a] government-subsidized construction program (architect engineers, constructors, suppliers, labor unions, and development interests in areas where plants are to be built).
"Also," the document continues, "the popular perception that synfuels are a way of reducing dependence on imported oil and holding down OPEC prices would produce negative public and media reaction. Congressional delegations from West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama and Illinois would be affected."
Similar arguments are made for cutting back money for energy conservation activities: "Supported by existing tax credits, individuals and businesses are already making substantial conservation efforts, which will be accelerated by oil and gas decontrol. In light of these trends, much current federal activity is superfluous or imposes too great a regulatory burden on the public."
It's not just private business and individuals that are in many cases to be left to their own devices, but so are quasi-public organizations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Financially, TVA will fight its own battles, with 1982 outlays cut $762 million. OMB suggests TVA should borrow money on its own, not through the Federal Financing Bank, and that it should scale back its planned construction of generating plants, including deferral of three nuclear plants.
The nation's rural electric and telephone cooperatives, who collectively constitute the biggest borrowers for whom the Treasury Department's Federal Financing Bank raises money, would also be left to their own devices in the capital markets.
In keeping with the administration's avowed aim of looking at all federal programs, the OMB proposals also go after some of the "silk-stocking" outlays of government spending.
The national endowments for the arts and the humanities would be ticketed for an $85 million reduction in their grant-awarding programs, while public broadcasting would see its support shorn by $43 million. In both cases, Stockman's aides acknowledge the sensitivity of their assault, predicting an outcry from constituencies they describe as "articulate and politically active."
But in another sense, the proposals seem destined to provoke cries of anguish from traditionally less articulate sectors -- children, for one; the poor and the sick, for another. The OMB master plan, despite frequently stated administration commitments to protecting programs for the "truly needy," touches them nonetheless.
As an example, the plan envisions a saving of $1 billion through placement of a cap on federal spending for Medicaid, the health program for the poor. OMB projects an annual saving of $5 billion within three years if Congress goes along with the cuts.