The Carter administration, fearful of sparking an unwanted new fight with business and labor, has postponed a scheduled revision of its voluntary wage-price guidelines program until well after the November election.
Although the White House has made no announcement, officials privately have agreed to put off issuing new wage and price standards for the program's third year -- slated to begin two weeks from now -- unitl Jan. 1.
Instead, the administration merely will continue using the current pay and price guidelines -- without any changes -- through the rest of 1980. The council on Wage and Price stability also is expected to shun any new enforcement actions.
The agreement was worked out in a White House meeting earlier this month between leaders of the administration's tripartite pay and price advisory committees and Alfred E. Kahn, the president's chief inflation adviser.
The Price Advisory Committee, last Wednesday, voted formally to "recommend" the postponement to the administration.The companion Pay Advisory Committee is expected to take similar action this afternoon.
The decision to put off issuing new wage and price standards came after officials became fearful of starting a new flap between the administration and labor, management and public representitives on the two panels.
Both labor and management representatives are known to believe that the program is counterproductive and ought to be dismantled. On the other hand, Carter's tip economic advisors want the guidelines continued -- and strenghtened.
The administration had been planning for months to issue new -- presumably tighter -- wage-guidelines for the program's third year of operation, which was to have begun formally on Oct. 1.
Both the pay and price panels were to have made recommendations by mid-September to reflect changes in the economy since the current guidelines were set. The new standards were to have been issued by Sept. 30.
However, sources said it gradually became clear that both management and labor would react critically if the guidelines we tightened substantially -- and officials worried such a controversy could prove embarrassing before the November election.
Sources said the two boards also wanted to put off any action on the guidelines until after the election to allow the new president-elect -- whoever he may be -- to have a hand in determining them.
"Even if Carter wins re-election, doing it this way would give him the chance to make a fresh start on the program next spring if he wanted -- particularly if the new reindustrialization program goes into effect," one source said.
Insiders said the issue of whether to begin a new Third-year" phase of the guidelines program was turning into a major behind-the-scenes battle among the administration and labor and management representitives.
The bulk of the pay advisory panel reportedly wanted the guideline-tightening postpones, if not scrapped in favor of a gradual phaseout of the program. Members of the price committee apparently were split.
Management spokesman reportedly complained bitterly in the face of the White House decision Aug. 28 to withdraw federal financing for a synthetic fuels development project of W.R. Grace Co. after that firm was found violating the price guidelines.
Key administration officials are negotiating with the firm to work out a compromise that will satisfy both sides. The White House hammered out a similar pact with Mobile Oil Corp. in a guidelines case last spring.