CAPITAL, REAGAN DIGGING OUT

It was a quiet week here in Washington.

Some of the relative stillness was due to the two snow storms that brought this city to a near-standstill.The roughly one foot of white stuff that fell last Thursday was followed by a slightly smaller amount Sunday and Monday, posing a severe test for the metropolitan area and especially its transportation system.

The struggle that followed was like the contest between the Denver Broncos and the Bi-State Giants: close for a while, but the snow ultimately won, big.

The federal government attempted business as usual when the snow began Thursday morning. Bravely if not wisely, it ordered civil servants in to work. Within a few hours, it had to send them home early, adding to the transportation gridlock.

Monday morning, most federal workers were told not to report in and many workers in the private sector stayed home as well.

At midday Monday, the streets resembled those of a ghost town, and there were a few ghosts around.

At the White House, President Reagan worked Monday on the State of the Union address with which he hoped to upstage one such spirit, the Iran arms scandal that has haunted his administration for nearly three months.

Mr. Reagan sought to deal quickly with that the spirit of crisis present when he delivered his address Tuesday night.

He told Congress that he took a risk with regard to our action in Iran. It did not work, and for that I assume full responsibility.

He repeated his reasons for the action, sounding at times like someone who might do it all over again but drawing applause from the Republican side of the aisle. Democrats, as they would do on several similar occasions during the address, sat unmoving and apparently unmoved.

The president did not explain exactly what he was taking full responsibility for - whether, for example, it included the possibly illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan rebel forces.

He did acknowledge that serious mistakes were made and then went on to deliver the most puzzling line of his address: We will get to the bottom of this, and I will take whatever action is called for. It's hard to believe that by now the president is still trying to get to the bottom of the affair, that he at no point summoned those involved, or others who might know or find out, and asked something like, What the hell has been going on?

It's hard to accept the president's adoption of a stance that invites

comparison to that of the man who insisted he only played the piano downstairs and had no knowledge of other events on the premises.

And it's hard to believe that such a stance would be taken in a speech designed to reassert presidential leadership and competence.

After his brief discussion of the affair, Mr. Reagan stressed the national need to move forward and made his own attempt to get back to business as usual: And now, ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, why don't we get to work?

Many of the proposals sketched out thereafter by the president involved promises of specific recommendations later on.

His proposals relating to foreign trade and U.S. competitiveness, to welfare reform and to insurance for the elderly against catastrophic illness fell into that category. The terms of the last proposal reportedly were still the subject of internal White House controversy.

In other areas, Mr. Reagan found the federal budget deficit outrageous. But he remained loyal to the spirit of his first-term victories, in cutting taxes and raising defense spending, that helped produce that deficit and the trade deficit it spawned.

He threatened to veto defense budget reductions and continued to oppose tax increases but he stressed there should be no postponement of the Gramm- Rudman-Hollings act's schedule for deficit reduction.

He revived his earlier recommendations for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and for presidential power to veto individual line items in appropriations bills.

Both items have a manana quality to them: Congress is not about to endorse either in time to affect any remaining Reagan budgets.

Later Tuesday night, House Speaker James Wright, D-Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., delivered their party's response to the president's speech.

Their live presentation was a much more pertinent and pointed effort than the sort of slick campaign films the Democrats have used to reply to previous Reagan State of the Union addresses.

The two Democrats expressed a willingness to work with the president so that the nation, as Sen. Byrd put it, can rebound from the Iranian debacle. But the senator said questions of trust and competence had to be laid to rest first.

The speaker hit at what he called the gap between (Reagan) rhetoric and reality. He said that the president had already called for budget reductions in education and the effort to combat drugs and other areas where he had urged new government action.

By Wednesday morning, Washington was a little closer to being dug out of the mess left by the two storms and had regained much of its momentum.

It was too early to tell how long it would be before the same could be said of the president and his administration. For the immediate future, the White House, like the city, faced the prospect of more heavy weather.

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