Mikhail Gorbachev is not likely to achieve his most ambitious economic goals for many years, if ever, and the failure to show quicker results could cause him serious political problems, according to a 1,132-page report on the Soviet economy released today by Congress' Joint Economic Committee.
Issued five days before the start of summit meetings between Gorbachev and President Reagan in Washington, the two-volume series of studies by Soviet specialists in government and the private sector provides a frequently grim account of the massive problems facing Soviet economic reformers.
"The consensus among the economists in the report is that there are so many problems in so many areas of the economy that there is no way the Gorbachev policy of reform can change anything in the foreseeable future," said Richard Kaufman, the committee's general counsel.
"Gorbachev's burden is to struggle with a faltering economy, even one that may require austerity until his reforms are implemented and have time to take effect," Kaufman said. "You're talking about the end of the century."
Ed A. Hewitt, an economist at the Brookings Institution who testified before the committee, said in an interview, "Gorbachev has far-reaching plans but pretty quickly he has to come up with a down payment to keep the people interested."
Hewitt said Gorbachev's immediate push to improve health care facilities and to increase apartment construction is part of an effort to "convince" the people of the value of restructuring, or perestroika.
Central Intelligence Agency analyst Robert Leggett said in the report that the "crunch" of opposition could come as soon as 1988 or 1989 but that arms-control agreements with the United States could ease the pressure on Gorbachev and make more resources available for industrial modernization.
After assuming power in 1985, Gorbachev aimed for economic growth averaging 4 percent a year between 1986 and 1990, a projection the committee report calls "unrealistic." The annual rate between 1976 and 1985 was about 2.3 percent.
Gorbachev commented on the Joint Economic Committee's study of the Soviet economy in October, after the panel had held public hearings. "There is much in them that is sensible and objective," Gorbachev said.
Abel Aganbegyan, who has been one of the architects of the economic restructuring plan, said in an interview yesterday with editors and reporters of The Washington Post that in the next few years the Soviet Union wants to put in place a reformed economic structure that will begin to go into motion in 1991, the start of the country's next five-year plan.
While Aganbegyan said the Soviet state was "not interested in imposing" reform on the people, contributors to the congressional report almost unanimously noted that Gorbachev faces substantial problems of placating bureaucrats whose jobs are threatened, workers who must work harder and better or face lower wages or even unemployment, and party leaders who are less than willing to depart from the old ways of a centralized, command economy.
In one of the committee's reports, Elizabeth Teague, a political analyst for Radio Liberty, concludes that while there is great spirit in principle among Soviets for reforming the economy, "Gorbachev might find himself facing a very ugly backlash, indeed."
Aganbegyan was less willing to speculate on the long-range future of reform or its precise shape. "Life will show us," he said, echoing a favorite all-purpose answer of the late reformer, Nikita Khrushchev. "Life will show."