PORTLAND, Maine -- It was a busy weekend for Vice President George Bush. Saturday, he stuffed the nation's governors with Maine lobster. Sunday, he served up a full plate of President Reagan's views on taxes and Central America.
The governors, meeting every summer since Teddy Roosevelt first assembled them in 1908 to drum up support for his pioneering conservation policies, have not always bowed to presidential persuasion. And some of them are showing signs of recalcitrance at the 75th annual conference of the National Governors Association.
Last winter, they defied Reagan to support a smaller defense buildup and there has been talk at this meeting about a need for tax increases -- pure poison to the president -- to cut the federal deficit. Most of it was from Democrats, but they domimate the association, 34-16.
Bush, speaking at the opening session of the three-day meeting after entertaining the governors at a lobster feast at his Kennebunkport summer home, was blunt about Reagan's feelings.
'He not only refuses to consider tax increases in the next two years, but insists instead that Congress cut $150 billion from federal budgets over the next five years,' Bush said.
Bush said huge projected federal deficits 'represent a challenge,' but 'the answer cannot possibly be to raise taxes and spend money just as this recovery is gathering strength.'
'We remain strong in our belief that budget cuts are the right way to reduce federal spending,' he said. If the federal and state governments 'exercise discipline and prudence,' Bush said, the United States 'will enter an era of greater prosperity than we have ever known.'
Bush devoted nearly half of his talk to a restatement of U.S. policy in Central America, declaring, 'We are not sending U.S. troops into combat' there and, 'We are not trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.'
'Others are trying to destroy governments in Central America with guns,' Bush said. 'We are trying to help build governments there with ballots.'
Actually, there was little talk at the meeting about Central America, but the economy and education were getting lots of attention.
Even before listening to Education Secretary Terrel Bell give the administration's position on the politically potent subject of educational reform, the governors unanimously adopted an eight-point policy designed to improve the public schools.
While the program endorsed no legislation nor call for additional spending, it did recommend the development of new state plans, marshalling of resources needed to improve educational quality and leadership and a search for ways to reward teachers.
In an opening news conference, outgoing NGA chairman Scott Matheson, D-Utah, expressed deep concern about the economy. He said the recovery Bush was so optimistic about might turn out to be no more than 'just a blip' in the long run.
'If we're not ready to face up to a tax increase soon, you can kiss the economic recovery goodbye,' Matheson said. If the nation doesn't deal with its predicted deficits, he said, 'the bloom of spring of economic recovery is likely to be short-lived.'
Kansas Gov. John Carlin, another Democrat, said, 'If they don't make any progress on the deficits, all our efforts will go down the drain.'
The conference host, Maine Gov. Joseph Brennan, a Democrat, said: 'We're doing quite well. Maybe I'm a little more optimistic.' Still, Brennan said he favored repealing the federal tax cut that went into effect July 1 because of the threat of deficits in the years ahead.