Without fanfare, high administration officials are doing some jawboning with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker, and they hope to encourage a moderate reduction in interest rates before the November elections.
White House counselor Edwin Meese III, who lunched recently with Volcker, says the administration isn't pushing for change but merely wants continuation of the "stabilized money supply" that he says the Fed has achieved during the last five months.
Others say the administration would like a little more. While the administration is moving gingerly, to avoid giving the impression it wants any major acceleration of the money supply, the clear thrust of the effort is to obtain as much expansion as possible without frightening Wall Street.
"Interest rates are the metaphor for everything the administration has to worry about in terms of political fallout," one insider said.
The real question is whether any form of jawboning will work given the skepticism of the financial markets. One high-ranking administration official said last week that he had told President Reagan that the time has passed when interest rates can be deliberately manipulated by using the money supply. He said Reagan concurred.
Despite Reagan's agreement not to pump up the money supply as a political device, hope beats eternal as election time draws near. The latest administration official to go face to face with Volcker was White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, who lunched with the Federal Reserve chief at the White House Friday. Don't expect any announcements on the results of this session.
Almost as mysterious as the administration's economic manuevering is the attempt to position Reagan as a presidentially acceptable partisan participant in the fall campaign. There are almost as many views at the White House of what Reagan ought to do as there are advisers.
Some want Reagan to distance himself from the congressional elections, making suitably "presidential" statements on New Federalism and the balanced budget and not tarnishing himself in the inevitable muck of electoral politics. These advisers, armed with surveys showing Reagan as a liability to candidates in the Northeast corridor and much of the unemployment-stricken Midwest, argue that the president ought to conserve his strength for the tough congressional battles of 1983 rather than expending his remaining popularity in the election.
Others say the election, no matter how far above the battle the president puts himself, is basically a referendum on Reagan policies. These advisers, also disagreeing among themselves about how the president should channel his energies, say that the president needs to spend his time in the trenches with Republicans who have loyally supported him in the congressional struggles of the last two years.
"I think the president ought to adopt a New Hampshire approach rather than an Iowa approach," says presidential intimate Paul Laxalt, the Nevada senator who was critical of his friend's unsuccessful no-debate, no-presence strategy before Reagan's losing effort in the Iowa caucuses of 1980.
"The president ought to campaign as if he were a candidate himself. We have the success of the presidency at stake. In the next two years, we're going to need all the congressional support we can get," Laxalt said.
One sign that the president is, in fact, likely to wind up in the trenches rather than the stratosphere after Labor Day are two additions to his August vacation schedule in California. He is now scheduled to do Los Angeles fund-raisers for Senate Republican nominee Pete Wilson, a favorite against Democrat Jerry Brown, Aug. 11, and for gubernatorial nominee George Deukmejian, an underdog against Democrat Tom Bradley, five days later.
On this week's presidential schedule is a rally today for the balanced budget amendment at the Capitol. It was originally planned for last Wednesday but was canceled when White House planners learned at the last moment that Equal Rights Amendment supporters had scheduled their own Capitol rally at the same time. On Thursday, Reagan will travel to St. Louis for two fund-raisers, one of them for his alma mater, Eureka College.
The president called in Republican congressional leaders last week for a conference and pitched the necessity of a foreign aid bill. The visitors demurred, pointing out that it is difficult to support foreign aid in an election year and reminding the president of some of the attacks he had made on foreign aid as a conservative campaigner.
"I remember those stories," Reagan said, proceeding to rattle off a couple of anti-foreign aid anecdotes as if reading from his four-by-six cards. But he concluded by saying, to laughter from his congressional audience, that he is president now and wants the foreign aid bill nevertheless.
White House word is that prospects for a fall summit with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev are growing dimmer. Reagan would like a preelection meeting of some sort, but, says one close aide: "We're no longer getting positive signals from the Russians."