Republican officeholders closed the fifth annual Tidewater Conference with mixed feelings: this is not the time for them to criticize the president and his programs, but in the long run he and the GOP benefit from a broader and sharper debate of the issues than took place here.
"This was the kind of conference that had to be, given the negotiations between the president and the leaders in Congress on his policies, but I would have liked to have seen a broader discussion on such matters as his tax-cut package and budget programs," said Rep. Marge Roukema (N.J.).
Sen. Mark Andrews (N.D.) agreed. "There was an obvious reluctance to criticize the president, but the debate was not as sharply defined as I'd like," he said.
"But I think there was a clear message to the president that he damn well better do something on the economy. I would have liked to have seen some candid talk along this line and get the president to use his fantastic powers of communication and persuasion."
Like many other Capitol Hill Republicans, Andrews favors budget cuts, including reducing the increase in defense spending that Reagan has proposed, and a deferral of some of the income tax cuts that Congress approved at Reagan's request last year.
In passing a broadly inclusive resolution of support for Reagan's economic program Saturday, the conference did poke Reagan on the federal budget deficits by including a recommendation that the federal budget be balanced by 1985. Administration officials, facing gigantic budget deficits in the next few years, have stopped predicting when the budget might be balanced.
Today the conference passed a number of additional resolutions, including one calling for "a thorough reform of the Defense Department to streamline research, development and procurement programs and to reexamine all the structures and assumptions of the current defense system so that every dollar will be spent wisely to secure peace for America."
The resolution noted that the Soviet Union is continuing "the largest military buildup in history" and that this requires a strong American defense. It also noted that the Department of Defense is the "largest, most complex, and most sophisticated bureaucracy in the federal government."
"The American people will not support us if we cut all parts of the government except the Defense Department," Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.) warned the conference, speaking on behalf of the resolution.
It passed without further debate or amendment.
The conference also passed resolutions calling for nuclear arms reduction negotiations and noting that "the pursuit of prudent verifiable agreements should be given the highest priority at this time."
The conference also passed resolutions calling on the Republican Party to maintain necessary assistance for Americans who "because of racial differences have historically suffered from a variety of disadvantages including restricted educational opportunity and restricted employment opportunity. It resolved that the Republican Party commit itself to "programs to fully integrate all Americans into the mainstream of the private economy."
There was a resolution of support for the people of Poland and condemnation of the Polish government and the Soviet Union for imposing martial law in that country and a resolution of condemnation of the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives for scheduling 10 full weeks of inactivity on the House floor.