There is one thing almost everyone agrees the returning Congress will not do in the weeks ahead. It probably will not do anything very brave about reducing future budget deficits. Also, it almost certainly will not pass a sizable tax increase.
That is true even though the budget resolution Congress passed earlier this year prescribes such action, and even though many economists say the deficits are among the nation's leading economic problems, so large they could choke off a recovery.
When the government closes its books on the 1983 fiscal year three weeks from now, it will have chalked up its first budget deficit in excess of $200 billion, nearly double the record of $110.6 billion set last year.
The 1984 deficit promises to be almost as large, even if the recovery proceeds as expected, because there is no sign of a break in the political impasse over the budget between Congress and President Reagan.
Many economists, including some in the Reagan administration, say the likely deficits are a major factor in keeping interest rates unusually high relative to expected inflation rates.
The high real or after-inflation interest rates, in turn, are discouraging business investment and home building and are helping keep the foreign exchange value of the U.S. dollar so high that it is severely crimping U.S. exports. The loss of exports is costing thousands of U.S. workers their jobs, the economists said.
Nevertheless, administration officials said Reagan remains adamantly opposed to any legislation this year that would raise taxes to reduce the deficit. (He is also opposed to any reduction in his defense buildup, while members of both parties but particularly Democrats in Congress are resisting further cuts in domestic spending.)
Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, who along with some other Reagan advisers was pushing in early summer for a revenue-raising bill that would take effect in 1985, has backed off completely, administration sources said.
"I would anticipate no major revenue raisers this fall or next year," Assistant Treasury Secretary John E. Chapoton said last week. "It is possible, but not at all likely."
That is exactly the feeling on Capitol Hill where neither the House Ways and Means Committee nor the Senate Finance Committee intends to comply with the provision of the 1984 congressional budget resolution requiring them to report out by the end of next week a bill to raise $73 billion of added revenue during the next three years.
House and Senate members who have been home during the August recess said they found concern about the size of the budget deficit but not enough to break the impasse. "No one found anyone marching in the streets demanding something be done," said one committee staff member.
No one on the Hill wants to say absolutely that there will be no such bill this year, but as one Ways and Means staff member put it, "There is less and less of a chance for a fall offensive for a big revenue-raising bill. Unfortunately, we have to wait around for a crisis."
Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he believes that Congress, realistically, has no more than about another month in which to move a revenue- raising tax bill as called for in the budget resolution.
Jones concedes there is little chance of that happening, and if it does not, he thinks it will not happen until after next year's elections.
Senate Budget Committee staff members are worried that if the Finance Committee, under Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), ignores the revenue-raising directive it could jeopardize some of the spending cuts called for in the budget resolution. Both the spending cuts requiring legislation and the tax increases are supposed to be included in a single budget reconciliation bill.
However, Finance and Ways and Means will be busy with other legislation covering taxation of the life insurance industry, revenue bonds issued to back residential mortgages and technical matters, some of which could produce small increases in revenues.
For its part, the administration remains only technically committed to the $45 billion contingency tax increase proposed last winter by Reagan. No effort is being made to secure its passage, administration officials said.
The president proposed tax increases--a 5 percent surcharge on corporate and personal income taxes and a $5 per barrel excise tax on domestic and imported crude oil--to take effect at the beginning of fiscal 1986 only if the economy is growing, Congress has passed the administration's proposed spending cuts and the deficit is projected to be larger than 2 1/2 percent of the gross national product.
"The moment of truth is right now," said a Senate Budget Committee staff member. "If Dole and Rostenkowski Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) don't report a bill, it will be the first time a committee simply decided to ignore the instructions of the Senate and the House."
But as a practical matter, according to both members and staffers, the votes are not there for a $73 billion revenue-raising bill. That was the mood when the members left for their recess last month, and the mood hasn't changed.