After years of wrangling over the tone of his State of the Union messages, the President's top aides have decided to "let Reagan be Reagan" in this, his seventh and apparently final annual address, and emphasize the conservative themes that have been the hallmark of his political career.
Thus, in his State of the Union address Monday night, the President plans to press hard for support of his longstanding fiscal and social agenda at home while warning against the threat of communist tyrannies overseas.
An initial draft of the speech, which aides describe as "Reaganesque" and close to what the speech will be in its final form, shows the President appealing for bipartisan support from the Democratic-controlled Congress. But in the draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, he also strikes an unusually combative posture for a lame-duck President whose power has been further eroded by the Iran-Contra affair and other scandals.
In the draft, Reagan pledges "swift and certain use of the veto power" to counter any attempt to break the agreement he worked out with Congress last year to reduce the federal deficit by $76 billion over the next two years.
Exercise of Veto Power
That threat, if carried out, would mark a significant departure from his past practice because, to date, Reagan has exercised his veto power less frequently than most recent Republican presidents and appears to be in poor political shape to make his vetoes stand up in Congress. He vetoed only three bills last year--one of the lowest one-year figures in this century--and Congress overrode him twice.
The President, using the address to set the stage for his eighth and final year in office, once again will urge Congress to approve a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget and to give him authority to veto individual line items of spending bills.
Reagan devoted most of his weekly radio address Saturday to a generally unsurprising preview of his annual message, but garnished it with a suggestion that "I may have a surprise, too, a way right now for Congress to show it's serious about putting the government's house in order."
There was an apparent clue to the topic in a handwritten insert in the speech draft that reads: "Let's forge a domestic partnership on the budget. Instead of a presidential budget that gets discarded and a congressional budget that is not enforced, why not a joint agreement that sets out the spending priorities within available revenues."
The President also will urge support for his unfinished social agenda of welfare reform, a school prayer amendment and anti-abortion legislation.
On the foreign front, he plans to press his campaign for aid to Nicaragua's Contras. And, while he will renew his commitment to seek an agreement with the Soviets to reduce long-range nuclear arms, he also will pledge to emphasize human rights and regional issues at any Moscow summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev this summer.
Reagan 'Set Guidelines'
The speech, now in its fourth draft and virtually in its final form, is little changed from the first draft, according to Reagan aides. It follows guidelines laid down by the President just before Thanksgiving.
"We all know who we work for, and he set the basic guidelines months ago," said Thomas C. Griscom, director of White House communications.
In drafting past State of the Union messages, more pragmatic White House aides have dueled with the Administration's right-wing ideologues and usually have exerted a moderating influence over the final product. But this time, White House sources said, top aides decided that for Reagan's swan song to Congress they should stick strictly to the President's guidelines.
"The right-wingers wrote it," one former Reagan aide said. "It emphasizes his (the President's) social agenda and has a heavy conservative thrust."
The speech was prepared under the direction of Griscom and Anthony R. Dolan, director of speech writing, with help from other White House speech writers and recommendations from Gary L. Bauer, Reagan's domestic policy adviser.
"In the very opening of the speech," Griscom said, "the President lets it be known he won't sit back this year and put his feet up, that he has an agenda and will go to work and finish strong."
Proving 'Skeptics Wrong'
In the original draft, Reagan says progress can be made despite the distractions of a presidential election year. He chides critics who said tax reform and budget compromise could not be achieved, adding: "In each instance, we have proved the skeptics wrong. I say to you tonight: We can and we will prove them wrong again."
Bauer, declaring that he feels "pretty good" about the speech, said: "It's vintage Reagan, the kind of speech he could have easily made in 1981.
"In the past it's been a battleground between pragmatists and true believers," Bauer acknowledged, "but this year it was more like: 'What kind of speech does the President want and let's give it to him.' It touches a lot of his longtime themes so his political base will be pleased."
In previous years, the White House has sought the assistance of outside advisers, such as former Reagan speech writer Ken Khachigian, a San Clemente-based lawyer, in drafting major addresses for the President. But Howard H. Baker Jr., the moderate White House chief of staff, sought no outside help on this one, and aides described it as strictly an "in-house" product.
Since joining the White House staff, Baker has sometimes sought to placate "true believers" who accuse him of undermining the President's more conservative principles. And White House sources say that in this case he also apparently decided that a fight over the State of the Union address was not worth the effort.
Griscom, a longtime Baker confidant who served as his top aide when he was Senate Republican leader, acknowledged that the speech contains no new initiatives. But he said: "It clearly lays out the road map of what this President has been able to do and is a clear recognition that while we're entering a national election year, the President can still challenge Congress and the American people to do things."
Reagan frequently has cited American "heroes" in his speeches to Congress, and the first draft of his State of the Union address contained a salute to U.S. Atty. Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, a high-profile prosecutor who has led a fight on organized crime, Wall Street insider trading and political corruption, including recent criminal indictments of two associates of Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III in the Wedtech case.
That Part Quickly Excised
But that section was quickly excised. Aides said they did not know whether Giuliani's role in the Wedtech case was a factor in the deletion. Another possibility is that the passage might have seemed too blatantly political since U.S. attorneys in New York have traditionally been fiercely independent and Giuliani is considered a strong potential Republican candidate for the Senate seat now held by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).
In the proposed salute, Reagan would have praised Giuliani's "unrivaled record for prosecuting major gangsters and hoodlums," but would not have mentioned his war on political and Wall Street corruption.
The President, in his speech, is expected to denounce protectionism as "destructionism" and to declare that America's economic future depends on free, open and fair trade.
He will urge the nation to seize the opportunity to lead the world into a new era of global trade and will cite the free-trade agreement negotiated between the United States and Canada as an example of cooperation to all nations now wrestling with the temptation of protectionism.
Reagan, who plans to submit to Congress a request for about $50 million in new Contra aid, will stress that the Nicaragua rebels--or "freedom fighters," as he prefers to call them--are crucial to the hopes of democracy in that country and he will urge Congress to pass the aid bill quickly.
If the United States will remain firm and aid those resisting communist tyranny in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Angola, Reagan maintains, then the Soviet Union may turn its foreign policy in a new, less aggressive direction.
In his Saturday radio talk, Reagan loosed a salvo at congressional critics who contend he is seeking a military solution in Nicaragua rather than a negotiated settlement.
"Some say if you're for aid to the freedom fighters in Nicaragua, you're against the peace process. Phooey," he said. He argued that pressure from the resistance has brought the Sandinistas to the bargaining table and has forced democratic concessions.
Reagan called the vote on continued aid to the Contras "one of the most important this Congress casts," contending that "at stake here is whether Nicaragua becomes a Soviet base camp on the mainland of this hemisphere."
The original draft of his State of the Union speech has Reagan saying that at the Moscow summit he expects to attend with Gorbachev this summer, "arms reduction will not dominate the agenda" and he will "continue to press the Soviets on human rights; we will not fail to engage the Soviets on regional issues."
He plans to urge the Senate to ratify the treaty banning intermediate-range missiles that he and Gorbachev signed at the Washington summit last month and will emphasize that the treaty establishes new, more stringent regulations for verifying compliance through short-notice and on-site inspections.
Will Defend 'Star Wars'
The President also will defend the Strategic Defense Initiative, his controversial "Star Wars" program to provide a space-based defense against missiles. The Soviets realize the value of the program, he will argue, and that is why they continue research in the same area "while they try to use arms negotiations to stifle our program."
Although the federal deficit has more than doubled during Reagan's presidency, the original draft of his speech gives him credit for making "progress" in controlling the deficit. It has him saying: "We have made progress . . . for the first time in 14 years, the federal government spent less, in real terms, last year than the year before. We took $75 billion off of last year's deficit compared to the year before."
In a section on education, the President argues that while funding is important, the way officials in Washington lead is more important than how much they spend, and he emphasizes the value of school discipline, curriculums that teach the basics, and programs that reward excellence in teaching.
Between 1960 and 1980, per-pupil outlays on education by all levels of government more than doubled in constant dollars, according to the speech draft, "yet during precisely the same period, College Board scores fell by 85 points."
Reagan is prepared to argue that "the lesson is clear. Money alone can never take the place of educational basics like discipline, hard work, and, yes, homework."
Monday night's speech is expected to be Reagan's last State of the Union address because, although he could give another next January, presidents traditionally have passed up that opportunity just before leaving office. Only three have deviated from that pattern--Jimmy Carter, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman.