An angry and defensive Jimmy Carter faced the press yesterday to try to revive his dismembered energy bill, the centerpiece of an embattled political program that has suffered this year as much or more than Carter's declining standing in the polls.
Carter mentioned three of his problem areas during the press conference - energy, the endangered Panama Canal treaties, and tax reform. A full list of his frustrated iniatiatives would be much longer, including items like welfare reform, refinancing Social Security, hospital cost containment, attempts to contain nuclear proliferation, disarmament and more.
Nearly 20 per cent of his four-year term has passed, and the President is still looking for a major accomplishment. Thus far, his has been a presidency of initiatives - lots of them - but not results.
During Carter's nine months in office, the rates of both inflation and unemployment have remained stubornly high. The stock market has plummeted, and consumption of energy has increased or discondited larte elements of the traditional Democratic Party, including blacks, organized labor and Jewish voters. According to two national polls, most Americans now disapprove of the way Carter has handled his job.
The President's initiatives abroad have also been frustrated, from Panama to the Middle East (where there are some signs of progress) to relations with China and the Soviet Union. Even his attempt to abandon the B-1 bomber may be challenged by Congress.
Carter's clear victories have not been numerous: he won the power he sought to reorganize the federal government; he won a Cabinet-level Department of Energy; he prevailed in Congress to eliminate a few big water projects and to continue development of the nuetron bomb; Congress passed an economic stimulus package, but the administration now fears it was inadequate; the President signed a strip-mining bill he favored, and he pardoned or forgave thousands of Vietnam-era draft evaders and deserters.
A list of outright defeats is even shorter, but an accounting of the fare of Carter's pricipal initiatives suggests the extent of his current difficulties. For insance:
Enegy. As the President's harsh attack yesterday on the oil companies implied, the administration's ambitious energy program is in trouble. At the moment, the Senate appears inclined to reject all of its most significant elemets. (The House earlier approved most of them.)
Refinancing of Social Security. The administration sought to tap the Treasury's general revenues to replenish the Social Security trust funds, but Congress has refused to go along. The house appears likely to pass a bill simply raising conventional payroll taxes to privide the money needed to continue financing Social Security programs.
Hospital cost containment. The administration sought legislation to impose controls on spiraling hospital costs by Oct. 1. It now appears inlikely that Congress will take action this year.
Tax Reform. The administration originally promised to produce a comprehensive tax reform package by early October. The package is now de layed.
During the residential campaign, Carter termed the tax structure a national disgrace and called for a radical restructuring. Leaks of the options noq being considered inside the administration reveal that the idea of radical tax reform has been abandoned. "I have discovered recently," Carter said yesterday, that tax reform is "an extremely complicated matter."
Economic Stimulus. Passage of his economic stimulus package was one of Carter's early victories. But the package had been modified after its original submission - the idea of a $50 rebate to taxpayers was dropped, ostensibly on the grounds that the economy was recovering well without it.
Economists outside the administration now generally agree that the recovery is stumbling - a view that Carter's economists are presently edging towards. The administration is now inclined toward further tax cuts in conjunction with tax reform as a means of restimulating the economy.
Welfare reform. Another of Carter's principal campign themes, his plan for overhauling the nation's public assistance programs, is now in serious political trouble. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N. Y.), chairman of a key Senate subcommittee and - the natural floor leader for the bill, has said, "We will have to rewrite it elipsis it's certainly not liberal legislation."
Many of the groups that have backed welfare reform in the past have attacked the Carter proposals as insufficient, and without their support, Moynihan has said, passage of a bill would be impossible.
Voter registration. The administration's proposal to allow voters to register when they go to the polls on election day has been stymied. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said last month there would be no vote on it this year.
Consumer protection agency. The administration has backed a bill creating such an agency, but Congress has shown no interest in enaction it.
Carter's foreign policy initiatives have also met frustration, though the President obviously hopes that many can still bear fruit. The Soviet Union rebuffed his initial proposals in the strategic arms limitation talks, and the administration has now had to accept the pre-existing framework for SALT negotiations. (An agreement within this framework should be reached within several months, according to administration sources.)
The Panama initiative, inherited from President Ford, produced two draft treaties, but also a political confrontation for Carter that - by admission of administration officials - is gravely threatening to his Presidency. Senate rejection of the treaties - which remains a distinct possibility - would be a blow to Carter's international authority and, thus, his intire foreign policy.
Carter's declared intention to get America out of the crudest forms of the international arms trade has been accompanied by major new U.S. arms-sales proposals, as well as some bew restrictions on sales. Administration officials now speak of the difficulties of reducing these sales.
Foreign governments have taken a few steps toward Carter's firm position against the indiscriminate use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel - an effort to keep the makings fo atomic weapons out of the hands of non-nuclear powers. But America's major allies have not agreed to abandon plutonium entirely, so the essential danger of proliferation perceived by Carter remains.
(Even at home, administration efforts to abandon the first breeder reactor in this county - a reactor that burns and produces plutonium - may be outvoted in Congress.)
The administration began its term with an assertive campaign for human rights. This upset the Soviet union enormously, and also provoked many traditional allies. Administration rhetoric on human rights has been toned down, and in his speech to the United Nations on Oct. 4, Carter didn't mention the subject.
Administration officials are currently most hopeful about their Middle East peace initiative. Israel has agreed to a new American approach to the convening of a Geneva Peace conference, and the United States is now waiting for Arab replies.