Arthur B. Laffer declared himself a candidate for California's Republican nomination for U.S. Senate on Wednesday--and the well-known supply-side economist picked the occasion, of all times, to turn reticent on economic matters.
Those who know Laffer marvel that he is rarely without a quick answer, or at least a stab at one. So it was surprising that he had almost nothing to say in response to questions about how to reduce the estimated $230-billion federal budget deficit.
Laffer, an architect of Reaganomics and namesake of the Laffer Curve (which asserts that government revenues go up when taxes go down), blamed domestic spending and a Congress "gone wild" for the record budget deficits. But during an announcing tour through three California cities, he targeted only one tiny program for elimination--$245,000 in federal revenue sharing for the city of Beverly Hills.
He promised more later.
"Over the course of the campaign I will give you a large list of domestic budget cuts, line by line. . . . It's a long campaign, I don't want to give it all to you now," Laffer said.
At the same time, however, the 44-year-old former chief economist of the federal Office of Management and Budget proposed giving $1.5 billion in tax-free cash grants to the brightest of the nation's high school graduates and an undisclosed amount of increased federal aid to the best of its teachers. He called them incentives for excellence.
Currently a professor at Pepperdine, Laffer unabashedly played up his role as economic adviser to President Reagan, but only as far as the good news of controlled inflation and economic expansion.
"I consider myself one of the few who can legitimately claim parenthood of the policies that have restored pride and prosperity to America," Laffer said.
Boyish looking, slightly paunchy and of tireless good humor, Laffer became the third declared Republican candidate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston in the 1986 elections. (The others are state Sen. Ed Davis of Chatsworth and Assemblyman Robert W. Naylor of Menlo Park.)
Laffer also is the latest in a line of celebrities, among them Reagan, to seek high office in California on the strength of their well-known names and performances in other fields. Bill Roberts, who helped Reagan launch his career in politics, was at Laffer's side as his campaign director.
'Today Is My Day'
Laffer complained about questions asking him to spell out the specifics of his candidacy.
"Today is my day to reach above that. I spend most of my life in details," he said. At another point he snapped, "The purpose of life is not to balance the budget."
Asked then the theme he wanted to convey at the start of his campaign, Laffer replied: "To do the least damage and most good that government can" with an emphasis on "economics, defense and education."
Lingering questions about Laffer's specific views surfaced in other areas besides economics during his appearances in Burbank, San Francisco and Sacramento.
For instance, he called security against terrorists "of paramount importance." But when asked for his thoughts on what the nation can or should do, he replied, "I'll be proposing something on that . . . some very specific steps."
And on abortion, Laffer announced he was "pro-life." Later, he said this did not mean he favored a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. He again said he would be more specific later.
Laffer was to continue his announcement swing through California today with stops in Fresno, Bakersfield and San Diego.