While it has certain flaws, the debt reduction plan offered this week by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, at least has the virtue of seeking to do something about federal budget deficits besides offer smoke and mirrors.

That kind of courage and politicalrisk-taking has been all too lacking in recent years.President Bush says the plan is a good starting place to negotiate with Congress over the federal deficit, although there are parts of the package he is not willing to support. That is understandable, although Bush's own budget director calls the proposal "serious" and "courageous."

As it is now drafted, the Rostenkowski plan would cut an estimated $512 billion from currently projected deficits over the next five years and even produce a $2 billion surplus in fiscal 1994. Surprisingly, that could be achieved without doing anything terribly drastic, although a little political courage would be needed.

Rostenkowski's proposal would:

- Shrink the defense budget by 3 percent a year, about 1 percent more than current administration plans.

- Freeze domestic spending for one year, including all cost-of-living increases in Social Security. Some benefit programs for the poor would not be affected.

- Apply the 33 percent tax rate to the 600,000 wealthiest taxpayers. A surtax boosts the top bracket from 28 percent to 33 percent for wealthy people, but inexplicably drops it back to 28 percent for the most wealthy.

- Raise federal taxes on cigarettes, beer and wine and boost the gasoline tax by 15 cents.

None of these are particularly earthshaking or unworkable, although both the Congress and the administration are likely to shy away from anything that affects Social Security, even something as mild as a one-year cost-of-living freeze.

The tax increases also may cause some politicians to shudder, though most are defensible consumer taxes. And who can complain about taxing the richest Americans at the same rate as those less wealthy?

It is too bad that the president was not as imaginative and hard-hitting in his own earlier budget proposals.

Bush reiterated his opposition to any tax hikes, but there is no way to solve the deficit problem without them. Yet that opposition may not be hard-line, since the president said he was "only one of the players" in the search for deficit reduction.

What that seems to say is that if a deficit package is passed by Congress, he will not veto it, presumably as long as the Democrats take the credit, or blame, for any tax hikes. A stalemate may develop since the Democrats in Congress would rather pin the same responsibility on the president.

Yet something must be done. Paying the annual interest on the federal deficit already is the third largest item in the budget. And it gets substantially larger every year.

It is hard to argue with Rostenkowski's challenge to adopt either his plan or a better one that contains no smoke and mirrors, no "feel-good" promises or slide-by budgeting, or picking out one or two little budget cuts that have no real impact, leaving the hard part to be worked out later at a useless budget summit.

The Illinois congressman's plan offers the first chance in several years for Congress and the administration to actually do something about the deficit. But when it comes to deficit reduction, experience makes one hesitate to believe that others in Congress will show much courage.