Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, a frequent critic of Federal Reserve Board monetary policy, said yesterday that the administration is considering trying to place the independent Fed under the control of the White House to better guide economic activity.
Regan, speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting yesterday, also said a recession was "possible" but not probable, the first suggestion from the generally upbeat administration that a recession could occur. "I would put the chances of going into a recession as very low," Regan said.
Regan, along with other White House officials, have been highly critical of the Fed, blaming it for high interest rates and, more recently, for the slow growth of the economy.
When Regan was asked whether serious consideration was being given to changing Fed operations to bring it under control of the administration, he replied, "There are times when that surfaces. There's been no decision made on the part of the administration as to what its position should be."
He said such a move was being considered at a low level, but he declined to say who was studying it.
"As with everything else, it's not unique," Regan said of the idea. "We're examining most things. After all, we're starting a second term and we have to examine all these parts of government to see whether or not they withstood the test of time."
But he remarked that central banks in many other countries are not as independent as the Fed and that those economies, such as Japan's, are doing all right.
A White House official said that the possibility of some "structural" reforms of the Federal Reserve had surfaced briefly in a budget meeting recently but was "quickly passed over." The official said he knows of no other discussions on such reform, although there has been much talk about current monetary policy.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that there had been discussions about the role of the Fed for two or three years, but that there is no active plan concerning its status.
Regan said the administration is "quite a ways" from a decision on whether to seek control over the Federal Reserve. But he said the idea, which would require congressional approval, "is something that you have to examine . . . because many people are criticizing the Fed, and it does affect the decision-making ability of every president," Regan said.
He said that Presidents Harry S Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt have "railed against the Fed" and that, consequently, changes were made in the central bank's operations.
In discussing the economy, Regan said it appears that it will be the second or third quarter of 1985 before growth returns to a 4 percent rate. He said the economy could become worse if defense cuts aren't made to help reduce the deficit.
The administration is forecasting growth at 4 percent for all of next year and has said it plans to include that figure in its budget. If growth is less than 4 percent, the budget deficit probably would grow larger because the government would have to provide more outlays and would receive less revenue.
Regan said it is important that defense be included in any budget reductions. "With these huge deficits, we could be in danger of losing our economy," Regan said. A pause in increasing defense spending won't cripple national security, he said.
"We've been very lucky; in '83 and '84, we didn't crowd out business," Regan said. "But if we continue along this line, I'm very much afraid that these deficits are going to get in the way of further business expansion."
The administration's hope of cutting the federal deficit in half by 1988 seems to hinge on the fight over defense cuts. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger earlier this week promised he would make some contribution toward reducing the deficit next year, but it is expected to be far less than the deep cuts proposed by Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman.
Regan also said Treasury is considering restoring in his tax-reform proposal the Accelerated Cost Recovery System, which the plan now would eliminate. Business groups have complained about the proposal to eliminate ACRS and the investment tax credit, which together saved businesses about $50 billion a year in taxes.
Regan said, however, that any return to ACRS would be done without the investment tax credit because maintaining both would be too expensive.