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Determined Not to Be a 'Lame Duck' : Reagan Says He'll Press Ahead With His Agenda

November 06, 1986|ELEANOR CLIFT | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, determined not to be a "lame duck" for the remaining two years of his term, said Wednesday that he will press ahead with his agenda on budget reform, judicial appointments and the development of a "Star Wars" missile defense system despite losing Republican control of the Senate.

Before the election, Reagan had warned repeatedly that a Democratic Senate would lead to "stalemate and paralysis" and turn him into "a six-year President." But on the morning after the Republicans' bitter defeat, he and his strategists said they may have to change their tactics but not their goals.

"The truth is, the voters reelected us in 1984 to keep the revolution alive--not just for two years but for four," Reagan told senior staffers gathered for a post-mortem. "And believe me, if you'd been out on the campaign trail with me hearing all those chants of 'four more years,' you'd know just how much the country is with us."

Somber and Subdued

Reagan appeared somber and subdued as he delivered what was supposed to be a pep talk to his top aides. Although he fell back on one of his best-known campaign lines--"Washington ain't seen nothing yet"--the magnitude of his political defeat was evident in his nostalgic reminiscences of campaign appearances on behalf of Republican Senate candidates.

As he sought to transfer his enormous personal popularity to Republican candidates, Reagan covered almost 25,000 miles in recent weeks in the South, Midwest and West. In the last week of the campaign, he visited 10 states on behalf of 10 congressional candidates;of those, only Sen. Steven D. Symms (R-Ida.)survived the Democratic onslaught.

Putting the best face on that outcome, White House political director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. insisted that the election was "a collection of personal contests, not a referendum on the President."

'Lame-Duck' Imagery

And White House officials, determined to stave off any "lame-duck" imagery, said Reagan will be able to work successfully with the Democratic opposition. Spokesman Larry Speakes cited Reagan's record as California governor as evidence that he understands the art of compromise and coalition-building when both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats.

White House officials also took solace from the fact that few successful Democratic candidates have openly challenged "Star Wars" or favored a tax increase, two issues considered central to the "Reagan revolution."

The Democrats "very wisely slipped every punch" and refused to be drawn into direct combat with Reagan, Daniels said. While the Democratic strategy may have cost Reagan critical Senate seats, he added, it could bode well for bipartisan cooperation in Congress.

'Marked Differences' Seen

On the domestic side of the agenda, White House congressional chief William L. Ball III said he expects "marked differences" as Reagan fights to hold the line on spending and institute a balanced-budget amendment and line-item veto, two issues that have failed for years to attract sufficient congressional support. "We'll just have to work harder to get that coalition and get conservative Democrats to support us," Ball said.

He said the coalition on major national security and foreign-policy issues will be "less fragile" and that he is confident Reagan can rally enough Democratic votes to sustain such key programs as "Star Wars."

Reagan told campaign workers that, during the fall, his "message of limited government and a firm foreign policy . . . did get across and continues to get across."

He said he will not back off from "our crusades against drugs and crime because a productive America is an America that's kicked the habit and put criminals behind bars where they belong."

Reagan also said he will work to protect the reduced tax rates that are part of the tax overhaul law enacted earlier this year. Both Republican and Democratic leaders have hinted that the rates may have to be revised upward.

A White House strategist reminded reporters that Reagan can still appeal to the country for support on such gut issues as taxes and "Star Wars" if Congress balks. Some White House officials even appeared to savor the prospect of blaming the Democrats for policy failures over the next two years now that they are back in charge of both houses of Congress.

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