ST. LOUIS — President Reagan, saying he recognizes that many farmers are suffering economically, declared today that barriers against foreign trade are "the No. 1 threat faced by American agriculture."
Opening an election-year crusade to keep the Senate under Republican control, Reagan also railed against "big spenders and big taxers" and "liberal Democrats."
"Instead of bigger government and higher taxes, we're looking for higher growth and more take-home pay," Reagan said, defending his economic program. "Instead of welfare and handouts, we'd rather people have jobs and opportunity."
En route to California for a 3 1/2-day vacation at his mountaintop ranch, Reagan stopped here less than two hours to campaign for former Missouri Gov. Christopher Bond, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the Senate seat held by Thomas F. Eagleton, who is retiring after three terms.
While praising Reagan for reviving the nation's economy, Bond has said that troubles suffered by farmers and the foreign trade deficit have prevented a complete recovery from the long 1981-82 recession.
Blames Woes on Inflation
Reagan blamed the plight of farmers on "the inflation that the rest of us have escaped."
"They bought land and equipment during those times when prices were rising, often encouraged by government to do so," Reagan said. "When inflation stopped, they were left holding the bag.
"The most effective thing we can do for the American farmer is to fight against so-called domestic protectionism," he said.
"It isn't really protecting anything, it's the No. 1 threat faced by American agriculture," Reagan said, adding:
"Protectionist measures would only raise the prices of what farmers, and all of us, buy and would likely result in retaliatory trade barriers against our farm products overseas."
Would Boost Exports
Reagan said the proper remedy for the nation's trade imbalance--now at record levels exceeding $150 billion--is to increase exports rather than curb imports.
"Rather than erect trade barriers of our own, let's go to work dismantling those obstacles in other countries," he said. "Let's balance up, not down. That way, everyone is better off."
The visit to St. Louis marked Reagan's first political outing this year. Republicans must defend 22 seats in the Senate in November, while the Democrats will try to hold on to 12.
Reagan's stay in California will be unusually brief. The trip originally had been scheduled to run through Monday, but was cut back to Saturday. The only explanation offered by the White House is that the President's wife, Nancy, will attend a wedding in Los Angeles on Sunday and that Reagan did not want to remain at the ranch by himself.
However, by returning to Washington late Saturday, Reagan will be by himself at the White House.