Administration officials are privately warning business and labor groups that they should cooperate with the President's voluntary program to hold down inflation to prevent a drift into formal wage and price controls.
Despite this private rhetorical shift, however, President Carter does not have, has not had for four years, and says he does not wan authority to impose mandatory controls on wages, prices or profits.
And strong opposition on the part of organized business and labor to wage and price controls, such as the type President Nixon imposed on Aug. 15, 1971, could preclude any action on the part of Congress to give the president that authority.
Even though Congress just stripped the President of a wide range of emergency powers - 470 laws were abolished at 12:01 a.m. yesterday - President Carter retains broad emergency powers that permit him to intrude in a host of economic transactions.
For example, if he invoked the Credit Control Act of 1969 (a law no President has invoked), Carter could tell a consumer how big a downpayment he or she must make on a new car! Under the same law, the President - actually acting through the Federal Reserve Board - could also set the maximum interest rate a bank could charge on the consumer on that same car loan.
Using other laws, the President could prohibit a grain farmer from selling his wheat abroad or a copper smelter from selling his product to another country.
The President also has emergency powers to order banks to stop making loans to foreigners or to make banks, or anyone else for that matter, stop buying or selling foreign currencies.
These are powers no President can or would use lightly.To take steps to limit international dealings by U.S. citizens or corporations, the President would have to determine then declare that a national emergency exists with respect to an international situation - say the declining dollar. That declaration is subject to congressional review.
If the President decided to invoke the Credit Control Act of 1969, he would have to determine that inflation is being caused "by the extension of credit in an excessive volume."
Carter administration officials say that in all their discussions of how to refine the ineffectual anti-inflation program now is existence - discussions which have covered dozens of policy options - they have not talked about controls over interest rates or downpayments.
One official who is involved in drafting the new anti-inflation program - which will be unveiled either in days or weeks depending who one talks to - said he is only vaguely aware that the Credit Control Act exists.
But the Credit Control Act gives the President sweeping authority over all forms of borrowing and lending. If the Federal Reserve Board, which administers the act, decided it wanted to make some kinds of loans more attractive than others, it could do so.
For example, the Fed could set very high downpayment requirements for financing speculative ventures - say the building of gambling ventures - say the building of gambling casinos - and very low downpayments for borrowing for new plant and equipment.
The Fed under the law, has the authority to =prohibit or limit any extensions of credit under any circumstances the board deems appropriate." The law is written so broadly, one observer said, that it could be construed to be applicable to a $5 lunch money loan to a co-worker.
The International Emergency Economic Powers Act, passed with little fanfare at the end of last year, gives similarly sweeping powers to the President to control nearly all economic transactions.
While there are procedural constraints on the President - and a requirement that Congress review his declaration of emergency - once he determines an emergency exists with respect to a particular international situation, his powers are "very sweeping," one congressional source said.
He can invoke exchange controls, capital controls, export controls, or transfers of credit. "It gives him complete regulatory power with respect to any transaction," the congressional official said. former Trading with the Enemies Act.
The act is a complete rework of the under which administrations have blocked the assets of Chinese nationals.
The President also can invoke the Export Administration Act to control shipments of goods abroad.