Deficit Tops List of Worries, Bush Learns

Times Political Writer

It was supposed to be a forum to promote President Reagan’s tax overhaul plan. But when Vice President George Bush bothered to ask, his audience of independent California businessmen and women showed him as convincingly as they could Thursday that the federal budget deficit, not tax reform, was top on their minds.

Bush, who couldn’t help but be a little surprised at the display of concern about the deficit and the ho-hum interest in tax reform, promised to carry the information back to Reagan.

“Obviously, we’ll tell him,” the vice president said.

The occasion was a Los Angeles meeting of about 250 members of the National Federation of Independent Business. Bush pitched Reagan’s sweeping tax overhaul and simplification as a boon for the economy and for American families. But when it was time for audience questions, the program lagged.

And Bush unexpectedly jumped in with his own question--asking for a show of hands about which of the nation’s priorities were top among these small-business officers.

The results, in round numbers, went like this: 10 believed trade and the imbalance of payments was most important, 25 to 30 raised their hand for tax reform.


Bush said, “I guess I know the answer,” as he asked who was concerned over the federal deficit. More than 200 hands shot up.

The reaction was similar to what some members of Congress said they found across the country during the August congressional recess--less passion about taxes than about deficits and trade. Bush said the Reagan Administration considered “all three intertwined,” although the President has emphasized that tax reform is his top interest right now.

There was concern expressed to Bush, too, about specific elements of the tax bill.

David Schultz, a San Fernando Valley apartment developer, worried that after years of erecting tax shelters to stimulate certain businesses, Reagan’s plan contemplates “tearing them down too fast.” Schultz said he felt the abrupt change in tax law would bring apartment construction to a virtual halt and throw tens of thousands of persons out of work.

Another questioner also complained of difficulty in keeping up with what he also believed were the fast-changing tax laws of the Reagan presidency.

Roger Mentz, chief economist of the Treasury Department, who joined Bush at the forum, acknowledged that after major tax bills in 1981, 1982 and 1984 “quite frankly I don’t think there is anyone, lawyer or accountant, who understands the ramifications.”

Mentz said Reagan’s pending tax overhaul should be the last such change in the law for “five, maybe 10 years.”

During his third day of a four-day visit to California, Bush also attended a fund-raising luncheon for legislative Republicans and the state GOP at Universal City, and he continued private meetings with supporters to promote his own political action finance committee.

Bush additionally was featured speaker at a dinner in Los Angeles, at which he credited the city’s people and the Olympic Organizing Committee with having “saved the modern Olympic tradition.”

“You hosted the largest and most successful Olympic games in the history of man,” he said in remarks prepared for delivery at the banquet, sponsored by a commission created by the County Supervisors Assn. of California to promote cooperation between government and business.

In a brief interview, Bush, a one-time Texas offshore oilman, said he could not speak informatively about Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel’s decision to disavow negotiated limits on oil drilling off the California coast. In general, however, Bush said, “I’m convinced that sound environmental practices and exploration for oil are not incompatible.”