Judging from early reactions of federal and state officials, President Reagan has failed to shift the political focus from this year's deficits, taxes and unemployment to the long-range plan for sorting out the federal system he made the centerpiece of his Tuesday night State of the Union address.
Even as the White House began a concerted sales campaign for the $47 billion "swap and send-back" program outlined by the president, key Republicans joined dozens of Democrats in saying that the current economic and budgetary problems must be dealt with first.
While rejecting charges from Democrats like New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley that the federalism proposal was no more than a "diversionary tactic," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said, "It can't take the place of fiscal policy issues."
Spokesmen for state and local officials said they found enough that was attractive about the Reagan proposal to enter into the discussions and negotiations the White House began yesterday with a meeting of the federalism advisory committee.
But, in a typical comment, Vermont Gov. Richard A. Snelling, chairman of the National Governors Association, said the question whether the states will be strong enough to take over the responsibilities Reagan wants to hand off to them depends on avoiding a repetition of the "enormous cuts" in federal aid they suffered last year.
"We can't finesse fiscal 1983," Snelling said.
Reagan, in his speech to Congress and the country, did not pretend that the federalism program would reduce the deficit or speed the end of the recession.
But he asserted that no significant tax changes or economic policy adjustments were needed to reduce unemployment or deficits, and spent most of his time and rhetoric on what he called "a single, bold stroke" to reduce the role of the federal government in domestic affairs.
The "bold stroke" he outlined would not begin until fiscal 1984 (October of 1983) and would be phased in over the succeeding seven years.
In the first phase, the federal government would assume the state share of the Medicaid program, while the states would take full responsibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), now a state-federal program, plus take on food stamps, now all federal.
In the second phase, a new federal trust fund of some $28 billion a year would be created from federal excise and oil windfall profits taxes, and would be used to finance about 40 existing federal aid programs ranging from highways to vocational education.
Between 1987 and 1991, the federal taxes would be eliminated, the trust fund would shrink to zero, and the states would have to raise their own taxes for any programs they wanted to continue.
Because those programs sweep across the domestic spectrum and because the substantive problems of the transition Reagan envisages are so great, his initiative would dominate the congressional agenda if seriously dealt with.
But as a Republican legislative aide said, "It's a great idea, but it doesn't do anything right now for our constituents. It doesn't give us anything to hang our hats on."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said, "Every president wants to find something to get out front with . . . but the economy can't be subordinated and he knows it."
House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.), speaking in a similar vein, said, "People won't be diverted for long from reality."
There were exceptions to this prevailing theme. Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D), himself a proponent of several schemes for "sorting out" federal and state responsibilities, said of the Reagan initiative: "It's a very imaginative proposal and it deserves a serious response."
Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson (R) called it a "good common-sense proposal," and a sign the president was ready to "move halfway" toward the governors' long-standing plea for federalization of all welfare programs.
But most others were more than ready to look Reagan's gift horse in the mouth.
Both Snelling and Utah Gov. Scott M. Matheson (D) noted apprehensively that Reagan had said nothing in his speech about what will happen to federal aid programs in the 1983 budget. That topic, Matheson said, was "conspicuously absent."
Snelling commented, "I have never heard a . . . speech which paid so little attention to the year immediately ahead.
"We took a $15 billion cut in state and local funds in 1982," the governors' chairman said. "Now, if the proposal is that we take another $10-$12 billion cut in 1983, and then you start swapping out responsibilities, many of us . . . will see a high risk."
Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate intergovernmental relations subcommittee, said there was a "very frank" discussion of the proposal with presidential aides late yesterday, "and we were able to suggest alternatives and things that were missing."
Durenberger said the original proposal "does not have in it that essential guarantee of fairness to people," but said there were opportunities to change it.
Rep. Lawrence J. DeNardis (R-Conn.) said after a meeting with other Midwest and Northeast Republican "Gypsy Moths" that he welcomed Reagan's initiative but was concerned that "the net effect . . . will be to enlarge and exacerbate regional differences between the South and West and the Northeast. We are going to see a further worsening of the relationship between the Sun Belt and the Snow Belt."
The Reagan proposal also stirred quick criticism from groups and individuals who have long been skeptical of the fate human services programs would suffer if returned to the states and localities without federal mandates.
The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said that while "almost no attention was paid to a dismal national unemployment rate," Reagan offered "a radical negative restructuring . . . of American society . . . which would mean . . . leaving critical national concerns to the uncertain mercies of 50 colonies with uneven resources, capabilities and commitment to equity for the least advantaged."
Former vice president Walter F. Mondale (D) predicted that Reagan "will not get away with changing the subject" from recession and deficits to federalism.
And Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), whose state has particularly high unemployment, said Reagan's "success in achieving this remarkable program . . . will ultimately hinge on an economic rebirth in the coming year. The looming specter of increasing federal deficits and high interest rates simply cannot be ignored.