In House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill's political almanac for 1982 is written the prediction that the times will be so bad they are bound to be good for the Democrats.
He foresees big troubles in Congress for his year-long adversary, President Reagan; he says an anti-Republican wave will sweep the country and wash between 25 and 50 new Democrats into the House next year.
In an expansive and sometimes philosophical pre-Christmas mood, the Speaker offered some post mortems on his year of defeats and some projections on how it will all be different next year.
Last January, he said, middle-class people welcomed the Reagan ideas and accepted his plans for changing the economy. "My district is liberal, progressive, and early this year they were telling me 6 to 1 that they wanted to give the president a chance," he told reporters.
All that has been changed by the onset of the recession, which O'Neill painted in tones darker than most economists, foreseeing 12 percent unemployment, a prime lending rate soaring to 22 percent, and a 1984 deficit of $200 billion to $225 billion. Lest he seem to be gloating over the gloom, O'Neill interjected: "There is no happiness in my heart because the country is in the fit of a recession."
"Do I think the president is going to have trouble with his program next year? The answer is yes," O'Neill said.
Reagan had been successful this year, he went on, partly because the times were on his side and partly because he, as an expert practitioner of media politics, was able to "move people to respond to Congress like never before."
Now, however, O'Neill sees a trend in the press that perceives Reagan as a "shallow" man and he wonders if the president's "honeymoon" with the media is finished.
O'Neill launched his holiday ruminations the day after Congress adjourned with a bit of boiler-plate denouncing Reaganomics as a device for aiding the wealthy and privileged while creating the loss of a million and a half jobs since July. "The bare fact is that this administation has made life better this Christmas for only a privileged few," his statement said.
O'Neill was less specific, however, in explaining what the Democats would do about redirecting that course next year. He would not favor a tax increase, as some have suggested as the cure for spiraling deficits, but would try to close some tax code "loopholes" opened by Reagan.
The Democrats' goal will be to increase capital formation and spur industrial productivity, but O'Neill acknowledged there is no program on the drawing boards for doing so. He is calling on Reps. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) and James R. Jones (D-Okla.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, to come up with some answers by the time the next budget is submitted to Congress.
"I can't point to any specifics at this time," O'Neill said, "but I will by the time the budget comes back to the floor."
Meanwhile, the Republican whip in the Senate, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was busy attempting to deflate those dire predictions of budget deficits.
When the president's economic plan starts working, Stevens told a news conference, it will automatically bring down the costs of some programs. Lower unemployent and inflation rates will mean smaller outlays of federal funds. "I don't believe in these enormous budget deficits of the next years," Stevens said.