When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev comes to town for his summit with President Bush, much will be made of his dilapidated socialist economy.

The horror stories will be trotted out. Stories about how hospitals don't have running hot water. Stories about how doctors scrape the rust off syringes so they can use them again. Stories about food shortages. About how people try to peddle scraps of metal for a meager living, about how infant mortality rates are shooting upward and the standard of living is falling back to what it was decades ago.The contrast between Gorbachev's homeland and the site of the summit will be profound. If not the land of milk and honey, America certainly abounds with the sort of extraordinary material wealth that makes a comparison of the two superpowers a cruel joke. Anyway, at the very least Gorbachev won't have to stand in line to get a burger at McDonald's.

The leader of the Soviet Union is too proud and politically astute to come here and openly ask for economic help. Any request for assistance will be euphemistically couched as seeking better trade relations. And stories about the Soviet economic malaise will proliferate during the week of the summit.

What you almost assuredly will not see, however, are stories about the economic woes that hound President Bush.

Outwardly, the Bush White House radiates the easy confidence of an administration that is coasting on huge public approval ratings. But there is another story here that doesn't meet the eye. While the world leader ostensibly needing better superpower relations is Gorbachev, the Bush crowd is hoping for some breathing room in the arms race, too.

The cost of bailing out the nation's savings and loans is somewhere between $300 billion and $500 billion when you figure in the income expenses. At least that's this month's guess - and we all know what happened to last month's guesses. How much money is this? The annual federal budget for next year should be about $1.2 trillion.

A few months ago, Bush was proudly prattling on about economic growth, about balancing the budget without raising taxes. Now, with deficit forecasts beginning at $150 billion and rising, there are no sounds at all coming from the Bush lips.

Here is the voice of leadership speaking at a news conference this week. Bush was asked if he could outline the budget problem and explain to the American people what it might take to solve it. The man whose presidential campaign theme once was "Ready From Day One To Be A Great President" had this response:

"I'm going to outline the problem when we get agreement so we can go forward with the solution. If I outlined the problem now, I'd go rely on some of the facts that the Congress appropriates all the money and raises all the revenues. That's their obligation. And I'm not one to dwell on surveys recently, but I will point out that people understand that the Congress bears a greater responsibility for this. But I'm not trying to assign blame; that's why I'm not doing it right now."

Of course, Bush's budget deficit is nothing compared to the staggering gap Gorbachev is eyeballing. The U.S. deficit is expected to run about 2.9 percent of gross national product. Estimates are the the Soviet deficit will range between 11 and 13 percent of their GNP.

But even before he arrives in Washington, Gorbachev is showing signs of learning from U.S. leaders how to tell the citizenry about bad news. Gorbachev has decided to put before his voters a national referendum on whether to shift to a market economy. He's warning his people about the potentially enormous increases in consumer prices and unemployment that such a move entails.

But here is where Gorbachev is learning about leadership American style. The referendum is being billed as a plan drafted by Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov's government. In other words, it's not Gorbachev's idea.

When Gorbachev and Bush go up to Camp David for some superpower privacy, can there be any doubt about the lessons Bush will be imparting to his socialist comrade?

"It's simple, Mikhail," he'll be saying, "all you have to do is blame it on Congress."