HAVING FAILED for two years running to come up with a budget plan that could command a working majority, President Reagan seems intent upon keeping Congress from doing the job for him. Last year there was strong enough interest in budget control among normally divergent factions to enable congressional leaders to push through a reasonably balanced spending and revenue package. This year, while the problems are no less immense, the sense of urgency seems to be waning, some leaders are losing courage and the president seems ever more intent upon waging ideological warfare.
Mr. Reagan has already succeeded in taking much of the steam out of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici's drive for an early agreement on the 1984 budget. The president convinced Senate leaders that he needed more time to work out a compromise on his big defense budget. But there is no sign that the Pentagon is planning any significant changes in its request, so the delay will probably only make it more difficult for Sen. Domenici to work out needed bipartisan compromises on taxes and entitlement spending.
Meanwhile, the president has reacted in hyperbolic terms to the budget plan prepared by the House Budget Committee. Unsurprisingly, House Democrats started off the budget wrangling with a set of priorities that differs somewhat from the president's. The House plan would, for example, authorize almost $1.6 trillion in defense spending over the next five years. That's not exactly unilateral disarmament. But the president wants authority for $1.8 trillion, and he claimed that the House plan would "gut our defense program" and bring "joy to the Kremlin."
The House Budget Committee plan also proposes to increase revenues--a nice note of realism that you won't find in the president's budget. The president attacked this as a "huge increase" in taxes. Actually, the plan's long-run effect on the tax burden would be less than the "contingency" taxes the administration coyly proposes just in case the budget is still way out of whack a few years hence.
The committee would also restore some of the administration's past cuts in spending for the poor-- although more than 70 percent of the cuts would still be in place--and add money for training, science and education. Even so, the Congressional Budget Office projects the five-year deficit under the committee plan at $108 billion less than that proposed by the administration.
The committee plan is no reversal of the Reagan Revolution--both taxes and social spending would be lower and defense spending much higher than under the policies of Mr. Reagan's predecessors. The president, of course, can argue with the Democrats' priorities and seek to realign them as the budget process continues. But he's not likely to get Congress to do the difficult work of developing a responsible budget by suggesting that anyone who disagrees with him is doing the Kremlin's work.