WASHINGTON — President Reagan, reacting to calls from Capitol Hill for his personal involvement in deficit-cutting negotiations, today agreed to meet with congressional leaders "as soon as possible" with every issue, except Social Security, up for bargaining.
He pointedly avoided repeating his firm oaths against accepting tax increases as an option, saying only that he is looking for a proposal "that keeps spending and taxes as low as possible."
In a statement issued under the President's name, Reagan said, "I want to meet with the bipartisan leaders of Congress as soon as possible to arrange the procedure for deficit reduction discussions."
Reagan has been criticized in Congress and on Wall Street, where the stock market declined again today, for not exerting strong leadership to cut the deficit, considered by analysts as a key factor in the nation's financial crisis.
"As I have said previously, everything is on the table with the exception of Social Security and there are no other preconditions," Reagan said, reversing his longstanding aversion to such a meeting.
"I hope that Congress will also agree to put everything on the table. This matter requires that both sides make contributions and develop a package that keeps spending and taxes as low as possible."
Usually, White House statements that can have an impact on the stock market are withheld until after the 4 p.m. EDT closing bell, but with the Dow Jones suffering a sharp drop since the opening bell, the statement was released at 2:15 p.m. EDT.
Earlier, House and Senate leaders asked to meet with Reagan to make sure a "budget summit" will consider all deficit-cutting proposals, including new taxes, House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said.
Wright said he and Senate Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia requested the preliminary meeting with Reagan to make sure the summit "won't be a charade done for public relations purposes."
"It all hinges on whether the President is serious," Wright told reporters at a morning news conference. "All we seek is his assurance that nothing is out of bounds."