THE ADMINISTRATION has confirmed that President Reagan will ask for another $30 billion or so in domestic spending cuts in the 1984 budget he will send to Congress at the end of this month. That's the part of the budget that has had to absorb all the budget cuts of the last two years. What are the chances that Congress--with its newly strengthened Democratic majority in the House-- will pay any attention to such plans. Should it?
The administration's 1984 budget plan will have even less going for it than its 1983 budget did. This year's budget will apparently show the same intransigence with respect to taxes and defense spending, and its deficit projection--thanks to the dismal economy and the belated adoption of more realistic economic projections--will show numbers far larger than those that horrified Congress last year.
With deficits that large in the offing, even if the cuts are made, Congress may well ask why it should add to the pain of a sluggish economy by taking away services, benefits and jobs that people and businesses rely on. And it certainly shouldn't entertain recommendations to cut back further on the already inadequate kinds of basic help provided to the poor, the disabled and the unemployed.
Other domestic functions are simply inviolate. The courts need more, not less, money. So do the IRS, immigration service and other enforcement agencies. Then there are the Coast Guard, national parks, statistical agencies and so on. And surely the president--who has been urging every other employer to take on new workers--wouldn't want to put more of his own federal employees on the dole.
When you add to the list of "untouchables" such big-ticket items as Social Security (its problems are apparently to be settled elsewhere), unemployment insurance and the highway programs (the administration has promised to step up spending here in return for the gas-tax boost), your field for cutting has narrowed considerably.
What could the administration have in mind? Well it can "freeze" many programs at current spending levels. That would "save" several billion dollars, since the programs would have to absorb the cost of inflation by cutting services and personnel. It could take on civil service and military pensions. That would offend powerful interests, but a strong case can be made for reforms in both programs.
Veterans' programs need a far sharper look than Congress has thus far given them. So does the proverbial pork barrel of water-resource and other local construction projects. And the administration has been developing some thoughtful proposals for curbing the fast-rising cost of Medicare and other health programs that deserve serious attention.
A credible list of domestic cuts probably doesn't add up to the desired $30 billion--especially when allowance is made for increases in some areas needed to reduce the hardships of continuing high unemployment. Making these cuts, moreover, would shift some burdens to states and localities that are already in terrible shape. And Congress would still need to make changes in defense spending and taxes to get future deficits under control. Still, there would be room for modest adjustment in the domestic budget if Congress and the administration were to be both brave and thoughtful. What do you think the odds are?