President Reagan looked forward to quick approval of his budget-cutting proposals but said he ancticipated a battle in Congress over his companion plan to cut income taxes nearly 30 percent.
In a brief meeting with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to a holiday in the California sun, the president said he was "optimistic" that Congress would act speedily on the budget reductions because there is strong popular support for them.
"We're hoping for it in a matter of months, a few months," Reagan said.
Neither the president nor his advisers will say how many of the 83 budget recommendations they expect Congress to approve. When a reporter asked Reagan if he would be happy to get part of what he had asked for, the president replied with a chuckle, "Oh, 97 percent I could live with."
But the president was conspicuously less optimistic about the prospects facing his proposed 10-percent-a-year reduction in personal income tax rates. When a reporter asked where the "big battle" would come, Reagan mentioned his tax plan and said:
"There's still that belief on the part of many people that a cut in tax rates automatically means a cut in revenues. And if they'll only look at history, it doesn't." Reagan aides think a tax cut can pay for itself by producing economic growth, which in turn produces higher tax revenues.
The private appraisal given Reagan by some of his political advisers is that the tax cuts face rough sledding because of Democratic objections that they are designed mainly to help the rich -- a contention the administration rejects but may find difficult to overcome.However, the budget cuts are clearly Reagan's highest priority. There is a widely shared feeling among administration officials that Congress will get around to cutting taxes in the election year of 1982 if it doesn't take the action this year.
Reagan returned to California a month after his inauguration as the nation's 40th president and a day after a historic message to Congress in which he declared "the people are waiting" for a reduction in the size and scope of government.
He was greeted enthusiastically at Point Mugu Naval Air Station by a crowd of $1,000 persons, most base personnel and their families, and responded with a series of anecdotes about California and inflation.
"I know the ladies know about inflation," Reagan said. "Once upon a time you used to put some money in your purse and go to the market and buy a bagful of groceries. Now you take a bagful of money, go to the market and take the groceries home in your purse. That's what we're talking about and that's what we're trying to correct."
Reagan also said he was "homesick" for California but had already "become so much of a Washingtonian that I have a hard time keeping my eyes open in the California sun."
Reagan won't have to worry about keeping his eyes open the next three days, if he doesn't want to. He and wife Nancy left Point Mugu by helicopter for a 70-mile flight to their mountaintop ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains north of Santa Barbara. Until Sunday, when they are scheduled to return to Washington, the Reagans will be virtually isolated from the outside world, the accompanying press corps and most of the White House staff.
Reagan said he would read a number of papers his staff had given him while he was at the ranch but added, "I also think i'll be able to haul some wood and ride some horses."
White House counselor Edwin Meese III, who accompanied the Reagans on the plane and will spend much of the next few days helping his family to relocate from San Diego to Washington, said the president was "very pleased and to some extent surprised" by the warm reaction he received from Congress to his economic message.
Without setting a deadline, Meese said the administration wants to get the fiscal 1982 budget passed this calendar year. He claimed the appearance of progress on the budget in Congress would have an impact on inflation because "we're talking about something that is well over 50 percent and maybe 80 percent psychological.
"Therefore, knowing that significant progress is being made is more important than a deadline. A great part of stopping inflation is psychological. It's building confidence on the part of people who are making investment decisions, as well as savings and lending decisions."