Despite warnings from Republican congressional leaders and unhappy predictions by his budget analysts that the federal deficit will exceed $185 billion in fiscal 1984, President Reagan hasn't abandoned his idea of speeding up the 1983 income tax cut from July to January.
The latest brainchild of the White House legislative strategy group is to combine the accelerated tax reduction plan with that old favorite of Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, the 5-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase, and push it through the lame-duck session of Congress.
The policy rationale for this odd coupling is that both measures are economically stimulative, since the gas tax -- pardon the expression -- "user fee" would provide an estimated 320,000 new jobs in highway and public works construction while the tax reduction speedup would put more money in consumers' pockets.
But the maneuver is basically one of politics, rather than policy. It is well known at the White House that even the friendlier, lame-duck Congress, let alone the more Democratic one that will convene in January, isn't likely to speed up income tax cuts while the deficit threatens to soar into outer space.
The tax reduction acceleration, if it isn't laughed out of committee, presumably will become a bargaining chip that would be discarded along the way by Congress. And it also would give the administration leverage in tinkering with the pork-barrel aspects of the pending multiyear federal highway assistance program, the measure to which the gas tax increase is expected to be added.
Reagan then could sign the gas tax increase, however "reluctantly," while insisting that his consistent purpose was and remains tax reduction.
Reagan faces plenty of potential trouble with restless congressional GOP moderates who narrowly survived this month's elections. On his other flank, he's risking a brush with Republican conservatives likely to be unhappy about his commitment to attend a fund-raiser for Illinois Sen. Charles H. Percy next February.
The commitment was made to Percy several months ago as a Republican incumbent likely to face strong Democratic opposition in 1984. Now, it appears that Percy must first overcome a conservative challenge in his own party, either from Rep. Henry J. Hyde or from state Sen. Don Totten, who managed Reagan's midwestern campaign in 1980.
The righties will point to Reagan's past policy of staying out of GOP primaries. But Reagan also is a politician who tries to keep his commitments, and the best guess now is that he will honor the one to Percy.
The hordes of defeated Republicans queuing up for administration jobs will make it tougher than ever for the White House to keep its commitment to bring more women and minorities into the administration. Most of the applicants are, as one official puts it, "white males with blue eyes" who will do nothing to help the GOP close the gender gap.
Some of the defeated loyalists inevitably will be disappointed in their job quest. But the administration wants to find jobs for three longtime Reaganites among the 26 defeated House GOP incumbents: Thomas B. Evans Jr. (Del.), John H. Rousselot (Calif.) and Tom Hagedorn (Minn.). Also slated for reward: Eugene V. Atkinson (Pa.), the Democrat who switched to the GOP in a White House Rose Garden ceremony and was rejected by the voters.
Among admininstration wounded back on the job are White House counsel Fred Fielding, who recovered from an attack of phlebitis, and Robert Carlesen, who runs the Cabinet Council on Human Resources. Carlesen, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery that narrowly averted a heart attack, is working part time and expects to return full time soon . . . Ed Rollins, the political adviser who suffered a stroke in the waning days of the campaign, is in good condition after another operation and is expected to be out of George Washington University Hospital soon.
Lyn Nofziger, the blunt-spoken former Reagan political aide, reportedly laid it on the line to the president last week in a private meeting, telling his former boss there is a growing impression in the country that he is being led around by his White House staff. Nofziger has never posed as a particular fan of White House chief of staff James A. Baker III.
Bob Orben, gag writer for president Gerald R. Ford, has come up with this line about President Reagan's determination to put the mob out of business. "Good," he said. "Why should they be an exception?"
Last, and probably least, is this new, sick joke making administration rounds: "Waiting for supply-side economics to work is like keeping the airport runway lights on for Amelia Earhart."