The precise size of the budget deficit in 1982 is not as important, David A. Stockman said yesterday, as making sure "the direction of the deficit is steadily down this coming year and in subsequent years."
However, Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, denied a report that President Reagan would be willing to settle for only $8 billion to $9 billion of the $13 billion worth of spending cuts he requested last week. The president also asked for $3 billion in tax increases to hold the 1982 deficit to $43.1 billion.
Administration officials expect the deficit for the 1981 fiscal year, which ends Wednesday midnight, to be close to their mid-July estimate of $55.6 billion. Yesterday Stockman, interviewed on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM) about whether aiming for a specific deficit figure was critical, said, "You don't have to hit 42 or 45. The point is the direction" of the deficit.
With no new spending cuts or tax increases, next year's deficit would rise by several billion dollars. Therefore, cuts considerably smaller than $13 billion could still meet the "direction of the deficit" criterion.
But Stockman discounted such arithmetic, noting that in recent years spending has turned out to be much higher than expected at the beginning of a year. "As we move through the year, we're going to find further examples of unplanned spending, overruns, bills coming due . . . And so we have to have a margin for error in this," he said.
"The only thing that we do know is that every month, every quarter the estimates get bigger and that if we sit on our hands and acquiesce, the problems will get out of control."
Two Democratic senators, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, said in an interview on "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WJLA) that Congress would not go along with the latest round of cuts partly because Reagan would not get solid Republican support.
In particular, a group of moderate Republicans known as "gypsy moths" would not go along because they believe the cuts would violate agreements by the president not to reduce spending further in certain programs, Hollings said.
Stockman would not respond directly to questions on the same point but he did not challenge a statement by a questioner that the OMB director "as much as assented . . . that you did renege on a commitment not to cut some of these programs further . . . ."
Instead, Stockman declared, "I think given the kind of fiscal situation that we face--a budget that just has enormous momentum--that we never can promise that a program will not be cut next year or the year after . . . And if it takes cuts in areas that we hoped to avoid before, then we're going to have to make those cuts".
The OMB director called getting the budget deficit down "our most urgent and the highest priority problem." Argued Stockman, "The deficit is too big. The federal treasury is borrowing too much money. It's elbowing everyone else out of the market and driving interest rates up to intolerable levels."
Hollings and Moynihan agreed that the size of the deficit is driving up interest rates, but said the only sure way to reduce the federal red ink is to have smaller personal income tax cuts in future years than those now set to occur, and to rescind some $12 billion worth of tax cuts for the oil industry.
"The issue is, there is no revenue there," Moynihan said. "And the answer is to stretch out the tax cuts . . . Stretch out the tax cuts in ways that anyone serious about the economy can see that a balanced budget is possible in '84."