Leaders of 16 of the nation's largest corporations met with President Carter yesterday and pledged support for his voluntary program to slowly reduce wage and price increases.
General Motors Corp. Chairman Thomas Murphy told reporters at a White House briefing following the meeting that business leaders want to meet quarterly with top administration officials to monitor the progress companies are making in reducing their need to raise prices.
President Carter last week proposed a program of cooperation among business, labor and government to keep this year's wage and price inreases at least one-half percent below last year's increases.
Secretary of Commerce Juanita Kreps, who set up the meeting, said the administration did not seek pledges from the business leaders present but she said there was unanimous support among the corporation chiefs for the president's desire to gradually wind down the inflation rate.
GM's Murphy said that the so-called deceleration program is a "sensible approach to getting our arms around the inflation problem."
Murphy said the giant automobile manufacturer will "look at every aspect of our operations" in order to see where efficiency can be increased and costs reduced in order to limit the pressure to raise prices. He said the company hopes to keep the increased in pay to workers in line with increases in productivity.
Kreps said in a later telephone interview that the suggestion for the quarterly monitoring sessions came from Du Pont Co. Chairman Irving Shapiro. She said that it is "too soon to tell" exactly how the monitoring effort will take place of what companies would participate in the quarterly sessions.
She said the president "responded enthusiastically" to the suggestion that business and government assess progress in reducing costs.
Robert Strauss, named by the president to be his chief inflation counselor, told reporters at the White House briefing that the business leaders - who represented manufacturers, food retailers, oil companies and general retailers - told the president they were concerned that government regulations sometimes increased their costs unnecessarily.
Strauss said that without "turning his back on the evironment' or other worthwhile goals such as consumer protection, the president would see where he could adjust regulations to help reduce costs.
Kreps said in the interview that the business leaders also expressed concern "with the need to be able to keep foreign markets in order to produce and sell a big enough volume to keep average costs down."
But no concrete decisions were reached at the 75-minute meeting, Kreps said the president stayed for nearly all of the meeting.
Among the business leaders at the meeting besides Murphy and Shapiro were Lewis Foy, chairman of Bethelehem Steel; Henry Fork II, chairman of Ford Motor; Clifton Garvin, chairman of Exxon; Charles Pilliod Jr., chairman of Goodyear Tire and Rubber; and David Rockfeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank.
Kreps said at the White House briefing that there was a "good give-and-take" at the meeting and general consensus that the president's gradual approach was the proper one.
While businessmen were praising Carter's leadership on inflation, the Republican Party attacked the administration's economic policy as "basically inept" and lacking in leadership.
In a 13-page policy statement, the Republican Party said the nation needs competent economic leadership to restore confidence, a lower tax burden on Americans, a reduction in government spending to control inflation, and policies to make the nation less dependent on foreign oil.
The policy statement said the "dollar is declining in value largely because people who own our dollars abroad . . . believe that U.S. policies must ultimately weaken the U.S. economy."
The paper, written by former assistant Treasury secretary Gerald Parsky and former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman William Casey, said that unless the administration changes course in the direction they suggest, "we face higher inflation, more unemployment and a reduced standard of living in the United States."