BUDGET DIRECTOR David Stockman has sent a memorandum to the president and the Cabinet warning that their economic policies may well produce $200 billion deficits "as far as the eye can see." There is in Mr. Stockman's message the plaintive tone of a man who saw trouble coming two years ago, but couldn't convince his superiors to do anything about it when correction would have been relatively easy--and who still can't get their attention now that it is almost too late.
Mr. Stockman has new numbers to buttress his argument. They show that, even with the administration's new cheerier economic forecast calling for sustained growth over the next five years, budget deficits are unlikely to narrow unless the president is willing to get out in front in persuading Congress to do two things that he personally opposes--raise taxes and restrain defense spending.
The administration cannot expect Congress to bail it out as Congress did last year. With the economy headed up, rather than down, last year's sense of urgency has been dissipated. And Congress has fewer options than it did a year ago. As action thus far on the budget resolution would suggest, Congress is unlikely to make the further deep cuts in domestic spending that the administration seeks. For this Mr. Stockman blames attacks by House Democrats, but the fact is that responsible leaders in the Senate have no more stomach for most administration cuts than the Democrats do.
Who would vote to cut another $1.5 billion from food stamps and welfare for families when poverty is growing and people are standing in food lines? It's all very well to talk about restraining Medicaid and Medicare. But when it actually comes to cutting off care for mentally retarded, severely handicapped or hopelessly ill children and adults, support tends to vanish. The same is true as you go down the whole long line of federally aided service and enforcement programs--everyone is for more efficient programs, but when you get down to specifics that usually means more, not less, money.
On the defense budget--which the administration doesn't want to cut in any case--the Pentagon has locked Congress into a host of expensive weapons starts. Canceling contracts would cause so much grief to particular congressmen that Congress isn't likely to be able to keep defense growth even within the somewhat more modest targets that the budget committees have tentatively set.
Last year, Congress took a lot of heat over the tax bill, and some of those modest revenue gains are still in jeopardy. Mr. Reagan's transparent proposal for "standby" taxes has few supporters, especially as he has made it contingent on the passage of his domestic cuts. Passing a sound tax-reform and revenue-raising measure would require strong presidential leadership now--before election year politicking gets in full swing. In fact, without concerted action to the contrary, this administration, which entered office on a balanced-budget platform, might as well resign itself to responsibility for the largest and most enduring peacetime deficits--by any measure --in the nation's history.