THURSDAY'S presidential photo opportunity featured Mr. Reagan surrounded by applauding Republican congressmen as he deplored the necessity for his decision to close down the federal government for several hours. "You can lay this right on the majority party of the House of Representatives," he declared. How's that again?.
When you're laying blame for any particular display of congressional ineptitude, there are always plenty of available doorsteps. The president could, for example, have faulted the Senate for the sloppy rules under which it insists upon operating. He might have regretted the fact that retiring Republican Majority Leader Howard Baker seemed unable or unwilling to exert strong leadership.
Senators on both sides of the aisle deserve a few clops for 11th-hour attempts to tack special favors for their constituents onto the already overladen continuing resolution needed to keep the government operating. In a brave moment, the president might also have excoriated those members of his own party who, in taking positions to the right of his own, blocked Senate action on some important measures and delayed action on appropriations bills.
And if he'd really wanted to be frank, the president could have recognized his own large contribution to the Senate's failure to get its work done on time. After all, the Senate fell behind its schedule primarily because the president refused to let Senate Republican leaders work out ways to reduce the horrendous deficits his budget called for. Perhaps so open an admission is too much to ask. But even if he'd said something about how things get behind schedule when you're trying to overhaul government, it might have been reasonable in this context.
But how can he blame the House leadership? The House kept rigorously to its schedule for developing and passing a budget resolution, made good progress on developing appropriations bills within the budget limits, and might have finished up the year in style if the Senate had been close to its pace. Of course, the president didn't like everything that the House did -- and didn't -- do. But the Constitution set up tried-and- true mechanisms for dealing with disagreements between the two bodies of the legislature and between Congress and the executive. It simply takes an orderly, good-faith effort to make them work. Unfortunately Mr. Reagan seems to prefer impeding action by Congress and then blaming his opponents for the resulting debacle.