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Congressman Says President Cursed, Hung Up on Him : Reagan Reported Angered by Gibe on Deficit

March 30, 1985|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, usually cool and charming when lobbying members of Congress, exploded in anger and profanity at a Democratic congressional leader who refused to support the MX missile and chided the President about the federal budget deficit.

Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), the House majority's chief deputy whip, said that the incident "showed me a side of the President I've never seen on TV or even read about."

Alexander gave a detailed account in an interview Friday of his 15-minute telephone conversation with the President, which took place last Tuesday.

Treated as Confidential

The only White House comment in reply came from spokesman Larry Speakes, who said: "We've always treated presidential conversations as confidential." He also said: "It's disappointing when a member of Congress makes such a conversation public."

Another Reagan adviser, who asked not to be identified, said: "The President is one of the most even-tempered officials in government, but this guy (Alexander) would make the Pope cuss. I'm not confirming what Alexander said he said, but even the President has his limits when dealing with that kind of guy."

Reagan, who lobbied heavily and won two narrow victories in the House this week in votes authorizing production of 21 MX missiles, telephoned Alexander at his Capitol Hill office Tuesday and sought his support.

Alexander, who first mentioned the President's call in a speech on the House floor, said in the interview that the phone conversation was the first opportunity he had ever had to ask Reagan follow-up questions and that he decided to take advantage of it.

Corrected Reagan on Deficit

Alexander said that he argued that production of the MX would add to the growing federal deficit and "explained" to Reagan that he believed the President had been wrong in saying that there was no relation between the deficit and military spending.

"I said the deficit had helped cause a depression in farm country and unemployment in textile and shoe manufacturing in my district," Alexander said. "And then I said: 'By the way, Mr. President, I've heard you speak of the need for a balanced budget. The question eating at me--and I've been wanting to ask you, if you are for a balanced budget, why don't you submit one?'

"There was a long pause, and then he acted enraged--or angry--and used profanity. He said, 'This is the most hypocritical question that's ever been asked.'

"And I said: 'That's the most reasonable question that the American people want to ask. Why don't you submit a balanced budget?'

'Can't Do It in Year'

"He said, 'You can't do it in one year.' And I said, 'You've got four years, and when you leave Washington and return to California by 1988, by your own figures you will leave the American people with a $185-billion deficit.' "

The President, Alexander added, "finally said, 'I haven't got all day to argue with you, goodby,' " and hung up.

Alexander said that he considered the conversation to be "in the public domain."

"I don't mind talking about the substance of the conversation," he said. "But I think it would be a cheap shot to say exactly what the profanity was."

The congressman characterized the profanity as "locker-room language."

There could be a sequel to their conversation, Alexander said, because Reagan will be making his regular Saturday radio address to the nation today, and he (Alexander) has coincidentally been selected by the Democrats to respond.

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