The Carter administration has decided to step up its anti-inflation "jawboning" program by holding public hearings to spotlight specific wage and price increases that the White House considers excessive, a key official disclosed yesterday.
Barry P. Bosworth, director of the Council on Wage and Price Stability, announced the new tactic in a speech in Atlanta. He also said the agency will begin meetings soon with physicians, dentists and lawyers to discuss price increases in those industries.
Officials described both steps as a sign that the White House is taking a more activist stance in trying to slow wage and price increases. Previously, the administration has been reluctant even to admonish unions and companies for seeking excessive increases.
Bosworth also said that, as a result of talks with key industries, he now is "quite confident" that price increases in the auto industry this year will prove to be below the average for 1976-77 - the guidelines the White House has established for its wage-price program.
He also expressed optimism about price increases in the aluminum and glass industries as well. Bosworth made his remarks in an address before the annual meeting of the Association Press. A text was made available here by his office.
The director's remarks came in the context of a stern warning to the public that the nation must begin to grapple with its inflation problem or else run the risk of bringing on a new recession. He reitereated earlier plans to ask executives to hold their pay boosts to 5 per cent.
Bosworth said that despite recent increases in food prices, the inflation rate still has shown no signs of actually speeding up. But, he cautioned, unless "we can get some improvement we will begin to see an acceleration in the underlying rate of inflation."
The theme of Bosworth's address was that all sectors of the economy must be willing to make some sacrifice, or inflation can't be slowed. He particularly cited the need for moderation on the part of non-union workers, who are demanding hefty "catchup" pay boosts.
At the same time, Bosworth criticized calls by some would-be inflation-fighters for a cutback in the President's tax-reduction package or a tightening of money and credit policies, which he said would not do very much to deal with wage and price boosts.
"The country is very close to the brink of political pressure that could push it back into another period of demand restraint - even though most of us . . . realize this won't work very well," he said. He branded such efforts "the default policy at work."
Bosworth also raised to 1.5 percentage-points the amount he estimates government actions are adding to the inflation rate. He attributed half to the impact of new payroll increases and higher minimum wages and half to stepped-up costs stemming from government regulations.
Bosworth took a tough line in announcing the new plans to intervene more actively to spotlight excessive wage and price increases.
"When we think either prices or wages are out of line," he said, ". . we will speak out publicly. We will use our power to hold public hearings, and, where appropriate, the government will realign its purchases to avoid those items whose prices are rising rapidly."
Carter had pleged to use government purchasing power to influence wage-price decisions in his April anti-inflation address, but this was the first time a key official had mentioned that tool since.
Bosworth also repeated the administration's earlier criticism of pending congressional moves to raise sugar prices and cut back meat imports. The Council has denounced both as inflationary.