David A. Stockman's departure from the Reagan administration will end an extraordinary period in which the budget director was the dominant figure in domestic policy-making, White House officials said yesterday. They predicted that Stockman's successor will have considerably less independence.
By the sheer force of his workaholic habits and his grasp of the budget and congressional politics, Stockman quickly became the dominant policy figure in the early months of President Reagan's first term -- a role that was later diminished but never relinquished.
Now, chief of staff Donald T. Regan wants to shift the focus of budget and policy decisions to the White House, bringing them more under his control as the president battles with Congress over politically charged spending issues for the next three years, officials said.
Regan is searching for a successor to Stockman who would not rival the chief of staff inside the administration, but who has sufficient stature to command respect in Congress, the officials added.
Regan said yesterday in an interview with wire service reporters that former transportation secretary Drew Lewis, now president of Warner-Amex, and Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige are leading candidates. Regan said White House domestic policy adviser John A. (Jack) Svahn and Federal Trade Commission Chairman James C. Miller III had also been suggested. Other officials said it was unlikely Baldrige would be chosen, however.
Administration officials also said yesterday that Regan is seeking a "staff man," a "numbers-cruncher," a "green-eyeshade type" and, as one White House aide put it, "someone who won't scream at the president."
Stockman did "scream," at least figuratively, according to officials who worked with him.
Unlike others in the Cabinet, Stockman often was willing to take a plunge and advise Reagan to accept policies that ran against the president's instincts, such as slowing down the defense buildup or raising taxes to bring down the deficit.
Stockman also took the lead in a long, persistent campaign to convince Reagan of the urgency of the deficit problem.
In 1982, he paraded Cabinet members complaining about budget cuts before Reagan in an exercise intended to demonstrate how difficult it would be to trim domestic spending. In 1983, he offered Reagan a loose-leaf booklet of simplified charts and graphs to illustrate the "structural deficit" and then had Reagan check off his budget choices in multiple-choice fashion, with the same goal in mind.
Late last year, he walked Reagan line by line through every account in the budget, hoping the president would thus put his seal of approval on the radical budget surgery Stockman wanted.
Stockman became "the main player in it all, the central player," a White House official said. "But for the rest of this term, the budget director will not be the main player." Regan said yesterday, "I know one thing, we won't be able to clone David Stockman. The man has been phenomenal."
Although Stockman never realized his goal of shrinking the federal government's share of the economy, he did carry out a major reduction of domestic spending programs as a share of the federal budget. But the money cut from domestic spending was devoted to defense, which has climbed from 22.7 percent of total spending in 1980 to an estimated 26.5 percent this year. Nondefense spending has declined from 77.3 to 73.5 percent.
This "realignment" is Stockman's legacy; preserving it may be the chief task of his successor, officials said.
There is disagreement in the administration about prospects for future budget-cutting. Some officials, including Stockman, believe that this year is Reagan's last opportunity to achieve deep domestic cuts; next year brings mid-term elections that will discourage trimming popular spending programs. But others say that chief of staff Regan does not intend to "throw in the towel" on the budget, as one senior official put it.
"We're throwing in the towel this year on Social Security -- but can we do it for three more years?" said the senior official.
Stockman's efforts to slow the growth of defense spending were often rejected by Reagan, only to have Congress later trim the Pentagon budget. Just as Stockman is leaving, the mood in the public and on Capitol Hill seems to have shifted toward his view.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has been "reined in" by the defense procurement scandals and by erosion of the once-strong public consensus for higher defense spending, said one White House official.
As a result, the administration may have to scrap a second phase in Reagan's defense buildup envisioned for the rest of this decade, officials said.
In a speech June 5 to the board of the New York Stock Exchange, which has since been made public, Stockman said that without new taxes the next phase of the Reagan military expansion "won't be possible." Reagan had planned to spend $325 billion for defense in 1986, rising to $500 billion by 1990, but Stockman said those levels "will be scaled back dramatically."
Holding back the defense buildup will be "a difficult, risky process," Stockman said, "but one that is compelled by the fiscal stand we have chosen."