President Reagan, voicing the frustrations each of his recent predecessors came to know in turn, says Congress is exercising too much power in its attempts to thwart his plans for selling the AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia and for cutting the budget at home.
The president also added, in a luncheon meeting Friday with a group of editors, that "there's evidence" that the courts have assumed powers that "properly belonged to the legislature."
Asked about the fight in Congress over his plan to sell Airborne Warning and Control System planes to the Saudis, the president said, "I think the Congress has gone too far." It was, he said, part of "the aftermath of Vietnam." Transcripts of the president's remarks were made available by the White House for release today.
". . . The executive branch is more or less entrusted with foreign policy because you can't run foreign policy through legislation," Reagan said. "And while there may be some safeguards that should remain, I wouldn't be averse to that--we do have a multiple kind of government--I do think that the president has got to have some leeway with regard to negotiations. And some ability to say across a table, 'this is what we will do or what we won't do,' and those that he's dealing with know that he has the authority to say that."
Reagan's predecessor in the Oval Office, Jimmy Carter, used to say much the same thing when then-private citizen Ronald Reagan was urging the Senate to reject the Panama Canal treaties and the SALT II agreement, which had been negotiated by Carter.
If the Senate joins the House in vetoing the AWACS sale, Reagan said, "how do I then go forward with this quiet diplomacy of trying to bring the Arab states into a peacemaking process in which they can sit there and say, 'Well, we don't know whether you can deliver yourself or not. You're not the fellow that's in charge. Congress is.' "
Turning to the question of the federal budget, the president said:
"The whole budget policy of the federal government is a kind of Rube Goldberg thing that doesn't make as much sense as it does in any state in the union . . . ."
Reagan was particularly critical of the process because the president does not have a "line-item veto," by which he could reject a congressional spending figure for a specific program while approving the rest of the package. "He has to accept the whole budget or none at all," Reagan said.
The president said that as governor of California, he did have the right to exercise a line-item veto, and that this veto could then be overriden by the legislature by a two-thirds vote.
Reagan said that he had raised the matter with House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. "and he acted as if I was threatening the very province of Congress and taking away all their rights."
Asked what he thought about legislation to limit the jurisdiction of the courts, Reagan replied that there is evidence that the courts have taken powers that belonged to the legislature. He cited an example:
"A federal judge has just ruled that one political party in the United States does not have to obey Federal Election Commission rules--the Communist Party."
At one point, Reagan said the Soviets "cannot vastly increase their military productivity because they've already got their people on a starvation diet of sawdust . . . . " A White House spokesman could not elaborate.