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'Who's a Lame Duck Now?' Reagan Taunts His Critics

December 18, 1985|United Press International

WASHINGTON — President Reagan crowed today over his double-barreled victories in Congress to start toward a balanced budget and tax reform, needling doubters by asking, "What's this I heard about lame duckery?"

When House Republicans last week stunned the Administration by deserting Reagan on a procedural vote and nearly killing tax reform, critics in both parties proclaimed the second-term President a "lame duck" unable to work his will on Congress.

But after a lobbying blitz by Reagan, 70 House Republicans relented Tuesday and helped send the tax reform bill to the Senate. (Story on Page 8.)

Today, at the start of a White House commemoration of last week's congressional passage of a measure requiring a balanced budget in five years--a ceremony Reagan declined to hold last week in the wake of the temporary tax setback--the President gloated:

"Tax reform is alive and well and kicking. What's that I heard about lame duckery?"

'Quack Quack' Talk

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan was "crowing," and explained, "All this talk about lame duck is quack quack."

Speakes gave his boss credit for "turning around the tax reform legislation single-handedly in one great leap" and said that Reagan in meetings and phone calls with 79 House members "didn't give a thing away."

Acting almost giddy, Speakes began his morning news briefing by playing a tape of Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters' 1954 version of "White Christmas," then in the afternoon joked about the gangland slaying of mob leader Paul Castellano in New York, noting he couldn't have been a member of the Mafia because he didn't have a nickname.

When a reporter asked jokingly if Reagan would telephone Castellano's widow, Speakes replied, "No, but (Vice President George) Bush will go to the funeral."

Warned Congress

In a speech marking last week's passage of the Gramm-Rudman balanced-budget amendment to a bill raising the federal debt ceiling to $2 trillion, Reagan warned Congress against using the measure as "an excuse" to cut defense spending or raise taxes.

The military buildup, he said, enabled the United States to "liberate" the Caribbean island of Grenada and capture the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. On taxes, Reagan said, "Raising taxes to reduce the deficit is robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Peter went bankrupt a long time ago.

"The government Gargantua has been gorging on taxpayer dollars for too long," he said. "We plan to get it slimmed down and into shape by the end of the decade."

The balanced-budget bill requires Congress to reduce the current deficit of more than $200 billion a year to $144 billion next year and in steeper increments until the government's annual books balance by fiscal 1991. If Congress does not meet the targets, the President would be required to make spending cuts to do so.

"I hope history will record last week as the time when the relentless expansion of the federal government was finally halted and put into reverse," Reagan said.

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