President Reagan embraced a $7.2 billion jobs and benefits package last night, putting his stamp on a bipartisan compromise that he had resisted and predicting that Congress would approve it.
Reagan, who had strenuously opposed past jobs programs with similar features, said that the compromise was acceptable to him because it "funds no make-work jobs" and would rely much more on accelerating spending for previously approved federal construction and repair jobs than new funds that would swell the budget deficit.
The president told a nationally televised news conference in the White House East Room, his 16th and the second this year, that this speedup program would include $4 billion to create 470,000 jobs, far short of the 1 million new jobs the Democrats would like to create. Other elements in the package include $2.9 billion for supplementary unemployment insurance and $300,000 for humanitarian aid for seriously distressed families.
Reagan also stuck to his "zero-option" proposal for nuclear arms reductions in Europe, under which the United States would refrain from deploying Pershing and cruise missiles in western Europe in return for the Soviets removing modern nuclear-tipped missiles that are targeted on European countries.
The Soviets have rejected this proposal. The president made no counterproposal of his own, but said the United States was open to negotiations on a "reasonable proposal" from the Soviets.
Reagan was questioned repeatedly about European fears that U.S.-Soviet negotiations have reached an impasse, and about the impact of the nuclear arms issue on the West German elections March 6.
The president said "it would be a terrible setback to the cause of peace and disarmament" if a new German government declined to deploy the Pershing missiles that former chancellor Helmut Schmidt requested during the Carter administration.
He hastened to say, however, that he was not trying to interfere in West Germany's internal affairs, and said he did not believe that a victory for the opposition Social Democratic Party would change West German policy on deploying the missiles.
Last night British Foreign Secretary Francis Pym became the second high-ranking allied official to call publicly for a compromise on Reagan's zero-option plan.
Using words similar to those of West German economics minister Otto Lambsdorff the day before, Pym said, "We must be careful not to take an all-or-nothing approach."
Both officials made their comments in Washington.
Reagan is mindful of this concern, but he remains committed to his zero-option plan.
" . . . We do believe that the zero option is the moral high ground in this situation--that the opportunity in that area to get rid of an entire class of weapons and release both the Soviet, the Eastern bloc and western Europe from the threat that is hanging over them warrants doing our best to get that solution," the president said.
On other issues, the president:
* Said it would be worth increasing and redeploying the multinational force in Lebanon if it would speed the removal of Israeli, Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces from that war-torn land. " . . . I think this is too great an opportunity to finally bring peace to the Middle East for us to let this go by."
* Denied that he was "being pushed around" by his staff to do things he didn't want to do, a criticism that has often been made in conservative circles. "I'm being given what I asked for, which is every option, every shade of thinking on issues, and then I make the decisions."
* Predicted that the bipartisan Social Security compromise negotiated by administration officials and congressional leaders would be approved, and expressed his belief that new federal employes should be required to join Social Security, as agreed to by the conferees.
* Declined to say whether he would reappoint Paul A. Volcker as Federal Reserve chairman when his term expires this year.
* Reiterated his opposition to gun-control laws and advocated, as he often did when he was governor of California, his view that the remedy for gun-related violence was mandatory prison terms and an additional 5-to-15-year sentence for those who commit crimes when armed.
Responding to a follow-up question about the efficacy of gun control, the president said that John W. Hinckley Jr. shot him on March 30, 1981, "in an area Washington D.C. that has about the strictest gun control laws that there are in the United States."
However, Hinckley purchased the weapon in Colorado, where gun control laws are not strict.
On another issue, the president stuck to his commitment to indexation of taxes to keep pace with inflation. "I would like to see the indexing put in place to permanently take away from government the incentive to create inflation in order to get more money."
The president tried to distinguish between the current jobs and benefits program he is now advocating and earlier Democratic proposals he had threatened to veto.
He said that the previous Democratic plan was for $5.5 billion of "new funds," which he said would create "make-work jobs" in the public sector.
However, the Democratic proposal also included money for humanitarian aid, which the president included in his plan last night.
The package outlined by Reagan apparently will be included in two separate bills, one a $4.3 billion measure with the accelerated public works jobs and humanitarian aid, the other $2.9 billion for supplementary unemployment insurance.
Reagan said he would propose a second jobs bill to provide summer jobs for young people and funds to retrain workers.
"In the weeks ahead, I will also send to the Congress my proposals for reducing long-term structural unemployment," Reagan said in a statement he read at the beginning of the news conference.
"These will include tax incentives for businesses that hire the unemployed, incentives for summer youth employment and funds to retrain displaced workers. I hope the Congress will swiftly enact this second package as well . . . . "
Responding to a question based on a comment by Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), saying that Reagan's new position on the jobs package reflected a recognition of the harsh realities of continuing unemployment, the president said:
"I didn't have to change my mind . . . . What we were working on ourselves was accelerating these and simply moving them up into '83."