President Carter said yesterday that he would send to Congress within the next two weeks a "very strong anti-inflation package."
But in separate speeches yesterday morning prior to the President's press conference, Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal and Labor Secretary Ray Marshall bluntly told the National Association of Manufacturers that the administration package would not include anything tha smacks of wage and price controls, voluntary or mandatory.
Later, in a telephone interview, Blumenthal insisted that an anti-inflation program could be strong without measures relating to direct wage-price intervention.
In response to a press conference question that referred to recent monthly price increases "in the double-digit range," Carter said that reports for a single month are often "very misleading" and "transient in nature."
But he said a "comprehensive" attack on inflation is necessary because prices will continue to rise at "6 or a little bit better per cent."
Carter cited a "drastic increase in energy costs" during the bitter winter weather as well as food price increases, including the soaring cost of coffee.
The President's promise to deliver the program within two weeks caught his principal economic aides by surprise. Earlier this week, they had stressed privately that the program would take at least a month to work out.
But yesterday, after press conference, one high-level official said, "Things are now somewhat accelerated. We'll have the program in two weeks."
Administration officials were vague on what the anti-inflation program would encompass. Carter said only that it would involve spending restraint on the part of the administration and an effort "to assess the impact of many decisions made by government and the public that contribute to the inflationary pressures."
In the telephone interview Blumenthal said that one part of the program will set out annual numerical targets for inflation, wage increases and unemployment.
With such general goals established, Blumenthal said, the administration would argue that actions by industry or labor that would cause such targets to be exceeded would contribute to inflation.
But there would be no "coercion" to force business or labor acquiesence, although the administration hopes to find some informal way of keeping informed, in advance, of wage and price plans. Director Bert Lance of the Office of Management and Budget said, "We have got to have some way of communicating" with business and labor, but he stressed that such communication would not be mandatory and would not foreshadow wage and price controls.
Blumthal told the NAM that the President "will be firm in pursuing policies designed to reduce inflation, but you would find his attitude congenial. He asks: 'What are the cost-benefits of any program?'"
Thus, Blumenthal said, "There will be no jawboning . . . and you can also forget about the 'prenotification' fuss."
On Jan. 31, when Carter sent his economic stimulus package to Congress, he said that his anti-inflation program would center on a "strengthened" Council on Wage and Price Stability, the government agency monitoring wages and prices.
Carter said that the council, on a voluntary basis, would get advance notice of upcoming wage and price increases to make its monitoring function more effective. It also would analyze supply and demand trends in particular industries so as to avoid bottle-necks.
But in the wake of strong criticism by both industry and labor of such prenotification, the administration dropped the proposal, which had been initiated by Charles L. Schultze, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. It was criticized, among others, by Marshal. The role now planned for the council is limited to analyzing bottlenecks.
Marshall told the NAM that "the control approach is negative and restrictive," but that an effort to increase productivity and achieve labor-management cooperation through a top-level labor-management committee would yield more dividends.
Blumenthal told the NAM tha the Carter anti-inflation program would be based on elements acceptable to business such as a balanced budget, deregulation and "a stable and predictable economic environment in which businessmen can have some security in the future."
"This Democratic administration is not a spending administration," he assured the NAM. He stressed, as an example of attitudes compatible with the business view, that the President had approved only a "moderate" increase in the minimum wage, from $2.30 to $2.50 an hour, compared with organized labor's request for a $3-an-hour floor.
He promised, also, that administration policy on trade and protectionist issues would pay close attention to the inflation problem. "Raising protection substantially at the border tends to keep us inefficient and [leads to] inflation. We can't have it both ways: we can't be for free enterprise and be against international competition if it is fair," he said.
Blumenthal also held out the prospect of a substantial change in tax lawes, to be proposed in October or November - following a welfare revision proposal "that will provide an acceptable rate of return on investment. Everything else depends on that."
Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps told the NAM that business' social responsibility shouldn't interfere with increased profit. She said social responsibility is a cost of doing business like any other cost, but urged business to anticipate public grievances before being forced to act by the government.
"We are firm believers that anything we can do to regulate business, business could do better on its own in the next few years," she said.