President Reagan denounced a Democratic job creation bill yesterday as a "pork barrel in the old-fashioned sense," and declared that he is "not in the mood" to compromise with congressional Democrats on jobs legislation.
In an interview with The Washington Post, the president said he would veto the $5.4 billion public works jobs program approved by the House, even at the risk of vetoing the attached stopgap spending bill needed to keep the government running after midnight tonight.
The president also indicated that he would reject even a scaled-down, $1.2 billion jobs program pending in the Senate.
Reagan delivered a biting critique of the jobs programs proposed by Democrats on Capitol Hill, saying the House version "might be the longest list of pork barrel projects that were ever put in a single bill."
The president recalled that he promised Republican congressional leaders earlier this week that if the House-passed jobs bill reached his desk, "even though it would bring the government to a halt, I would have to veto it, and I would . . . . "
Reagan's reaffirmation of his stand against public works jobs programs appears to intensify a looming confrontation on the issue as Congress struggles to approve a new stopgap spending bill. The current continuing resolution that funds the government expires tonight.
In an interview covering domestic and foreign policy yesterday, Reagan strongly implied he would reject the spending bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which includes $1.2 billion for jobs.
"I haven't had a chance to see what they're suggesting," Reagan said of the Senate version. "But I sure would want a solid look at it." He then vowed, "I'm going to keep faith with those members of the House that stuck by us."
White House officials said the president is intent on honoring his veto commitment to House Republicans who "walked the plank" and risked voting against a jobs program at a time when unemployment, now at 10.8 percent, has reached the highest peak since 1941.
Reagan made it clear that he did not think the jobs legislation would help the economy.
"What I'm saying is to add $5.4 billion to the deficit on the pretext that this somehow is going to create jobs for people and reduce unemployment while you increase the deficit -- that is going to be more detrimental to the recovery that we need than any good that it's going to do," the president said.
Asked whether he was in any mood now to compromise with Democrats on jobs legislation and whether he thought it would accomplish much, Reagan responded, "No, it wouldn't and that's one of the reasons why I'm not in the mood to cooperate with them, compromise with them.
"All of our past experience shows that make-work jobs programs of the past, whatever they did in eventually creating some employment, usually it was so late the recovery had already taken place or was well under way by the time that they did this," the president said.
"Also," Reagan added, "the taking of those funds from the economy to be used by government in that way resulted in uncounted unemployment in other sectors of the economy . . . . You just simply shifted the jobs from one group to another."
Referring to a fact sheet prepared by his staff, Reagan then sharply criticized the $5.4 billion jobs bill pushed through the House by Democrats. "It isn't carefully planned, and it isn't a jobs program," he said. The president maintained that the House bill included "no less than 678 specific and different projects."
For example, he said, there is $50 million for a "small business association national resources development grant. That's a program to fund tree planting. And it never has, the small business community, most of it has never even heard of the program."
Reagan expressed the view, shared by many economists, that the public works jobs programs of the past have gone into effect too late.
He said in the deep 1974-75 recession, "most of those . . . make-work programs never got under way until about 1978. By that time, it the recession was over." Reagan said none of the $200 million in the House bill for the Economic Development Administration will result in "a single new job until at least a year from now."
"Now, here's another thing," he went on. "Where jobs are created, the price tag for creating them is far more staggering than anything in the private sector."
He said the bill would spend $614,000 for every job in federal prison construction, and $49,000 for every operations and maintenance job under the Bureau of Reclamation. Every General Services Administration job in the bill for federal building projects would cost $25,000, he said.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said yesterday there has been "no talk" of compromise with Democrats on the jobs issue. He said that White House chief of staff James A. Baker III had gone to Capitol Hill Wednesday to see Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), and that James Baker had also talked with House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). But the chief of staff had refused to talk with O'Neill about compromise on the jobs bill, Speakes said.
According to a spokesman for O'Neill, the speaker said to Baker that he was working on some of the president's legislative priorities and only wanted some reciprocating help by compromising on the jobs legislation.