WASHINGTON — President Reagan dispatched his senior economic and political advisers to the House and Senate on Wednesday to begin searching for a budget compromise with congressional leaders, even as senior members of his staff made it clear that he was far from ready to relax his adamant opposition to tax increases.
Reagan said he would listen to proposals made by members of Congress to trim the federal budget deficit by increasing taxes.
But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that, just because "everything's on the table for discussion, that doesn't mean the President feels any differently about the destructiveness of raising taxes."
And Budget Director James C. Miller III said in a speech that Reagan "is not going to take a tax increase." The President, however, suggested later that Miller was simply "guessing what I think."
Under the pressure of Monday's record stock market plunge, Reagan agreed Tuesday to meetings between congressional leaders and senior Administration officials--possibly including himself--to tackle long-standing differences over the budget deficit.
But officials indicated Wednesday that it would be weeks before such talks could be expected to produce any agreement.
The Gramm-Rudman law gives Congress and the Administration until Nov. 20 to slice $23 billion from the deficit for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. If they fail, the $23 billion will be cut automatically across-the-board in most domestic and defense programs--something both Congress and the Administration are seeking to avoid.
Says He Agreed to Listen
At a photo session at the start of a meeting in the Oval Office with President Jose Azcona Hoyo of Honduras, Reagan made it clear that, although he had pledged that the Administration would listen to congressional proposals, he had agreed to little else.
When asked whether he would accept higher taxes to balance the budget--a step he originally pledged he would accomplish by 1984--and to ease the fears generated by the stock market crash, the President said:
"Let me just put it this way: I have not changed my mind about the impact of increased taxes, which does not result in increased revenues."
Democrats, who have been hit hard by the President over the tax issue, warily welcomed the declarations by Reagan and his spokesman, Fitzwater, that all budget matters are negotiable.
'A Darn Good Sign'
"I'm glad to hear the President say it," Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview. "Talking about everything being on the table is a darn good sign. I'm ready to respond."
However, Rostenkowski said he is uncertain "how much elasticity there is" in the Administration's position. The President's willingness to talk is undercut by Administration officials who rule out taxes, he said.
"I don't think there's any coach (at the White House); there's no Mike Ditka on that team," said the congressman from Chicago, referring to the Chicago Bears' football coach.
Reagan's remarks on the economy this week have been limited to responses shouted to reporters over the roar of his helicopter engine as he leaves the White House to visit his hospitalized wife, Nancy, or in hasty encounters at photo sessions.
News Conference Scheduled
But White House officials scheduled a presidential news conference for 5 p.m. (PDT) today, his first such nationally televised, prime-time meeting with reporters since March 19.
A senior White House official said the President planned to open the session with a statement on the economy and sharp criticism of efforts to trim the deficit by a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes, rather than with budget trims alone--the step Reagan favors.
On Wednesday, Reagan was clearly upbeat after the Dow Jones industrial average rebounded with a record-setting 186-point gain, the second record advance in a row, following the stunning 508-point plunge on Monday.
When asked as he was about to board his helicopter whether the market crisis was over, he replied: "It would appear to be. Certainly, when more than one-half of the loss has already been regained, that sounds as if someone discovered the economy is still rather sound."
Baker Conveys Commitment
Administration officials including Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III met with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate to convey Reagan's commitment to reaching a budget agreement.
"Everyone is trying to feel each other out," said a senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said each side found reason to pursue the talks, but neither gave any ground, no "major breakthroughs" were achieved and most of the time was spent trying "to decide how to proceed."
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said they want the President to take a personal role in the negotiations.
"We're serious about wanting to negotiate," Byrd said. "The ball is in his court."
Wright insisted that, for the talks to be useful, "any credible suggestion must be on the negotiating table."