Ten of the nation's most influential businessmen urged President Carter yesterday to recommend to Congress a tax cut of at least $22 billion starting next year.
They also urged him, in recommendations they said would build "business confidence," to avoid excessive manipulation of the economy.
The occasion was a meeting in the Cabinet room with the President, Vice President Mondale and key members of the Carter economic advisory team. The session was arranged by Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps and was Carter's first face-to-face meeting with a group of business leaders on economic issues since just prior to his inauguration.
Administration officials, eager to establish rapport with the business community in the wake of the resignation Wednesday of budget director Bert Lance, said they, too, favor a tax cut in the $22 billion range as part of tax revision, but indicated reservations about the slow-growth policy advocated by some of the businessmen.
Administration officials had indicated earlier that their tax revision plan would include a tax cut of $15 billion to $20 billion.
The President, it was learned, told the businessmen that he welcomed a continuing personal dialogue, and aides said that other meetings would be held from time to time. But Carter also suggested that with Lance - who had been his main "ambassador" to the business community - now gone, Kreps and Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal would speak for him and would communicate the business viewpoint to him.
He also mentioned, in his context, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget James T. Mclntyre, who was present at the session, which lasted for more than an hour. There was no discussion, according to those present, of a replacement for Lance at OMB.
The President's advisers and the business leaders said they agreed that the economy "Is in good health," with an economic growth rate of about 5 per cent in prospect for the rest of 1977.
To drive home the point that the current economic expansion is well-balanced and that most of the statistical reports are good. Citicorp Chairman Walter B. Wriston urged Carter to make some public speeches about the economy and its strengths.
But E. I. du Pont Chairman Irving S. Shapiro then told the President that while most businessmen would agree that the outlook is good on paper, business confidence was lacking because of uncertainties about Carter's tax policies and the outcome of his energy proposals.
A prepared statement Shapiro later made available to reporters - which he apparently only summarized in the meeting with Carter - used much stronger language. The lack of confidence, Shapiro said in the statement, is related "to a deep distrust of government economic policies."
Shapiro said that the nation's "basic growth rate is in the neighborhood of 3.5 per cent," and that "this is the standard against which the economy's performance should be judged." Efforts to achieve annual growth rates of 5 per cent or more would "be certain" to generate inflation and a new recession, he said.
He also warned that the country does "not react favorably" to "policies that are switched on and off." Shapiro said that Carter was "supportive" of the viewpoint that Shapiro "no one is smart enough to turn the economy on and off, short-term, and make it work."
Although Shapiro told reporters that the President had expressed general agreement with his other arguments. Blumenthal promptly disavowed Shapiro's slow-growth preference. In answer to a question at a press conference, Bluementhal said: "We are aiming at 5 per cent real growth and do not think that would be inflationary."
Shapiro's slow-growth argument also was challenged by economic council Chairman Charles L., Schultze during the cabinet room sessions prior to Carter's arrival halfway though the talks.
Reginald Jones, chairman of the General Electric Co., told reporters that the business community supports the main principles of tax revision being planned by the administration, which he estimated - and Blumenthal concurred - would cut personal taxes by $15 billion and business taxes by $5 billion to $7 billion in fiscal 1979.
But Jones complained that $4.5 billion of the proposal business tax cuts would come about through the partial elimination of double taxation of dividends, which he said "benefits the individual investor, not business itself."