President Carter said yesterday he expects to endorse a compromise version of the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill within a few days, and shortly afterward a coalition of liberal groups unanimously agreed to support the same legislation.
The bill that the coalition of labor, civil rights and other groups agreed to accept would set a national unemployment target of 4 per cent, to be reached within five years. But after weeks of intensive negotiations with White House aides, the supporters of the legislation settled for a measure that would not require the administration take any specific steps to reach that 4 per cent goal.
The President resisted stronger versions of the legislation as inflationary, and yesterday he emphasized that the compromise contains "a strong anti-inflation commitment in addition to the anti-unemployment commitment."
Carter's comments about inflation, in the midst of a news conference dominated by economic and other domestic issues, appeared to be part of a delicate attempt to balance the concern of liberal democrats over unemployment against business fears of increased government spending and a new round of inflation.
The President said he hope unemployment would decline next year, and he cited the amount of money the administration has already put into job-creating programs. But he coupled this with a warning that reducing unemployment will be "a tedious, slow process," and with unusually kind words for Federal Reserve Board Chairman Arthur F. Burns, a leading anti-inflationary symbol for the business community.
Burns' tight-money policies have forced up interest rates, and administration economists have warned that further restrictions of the money supply could jeopardize economic recovery.
But yesterday Carter, citing what he described as an extremely cordial relationship with Burns, said that when he meets monthly with the Reserve Board chairman to discuss economic issues "we have never had any disagreements on those subjects."
After the news conference, however, White House press secretary Jody Powell came close to retracting Carter's kind words for Burns. He said the President's praise of the nation's central banker was "overblown" and an "overreaction" to suggestions of a personal feud between the two men. On Carter's statement that he had never disagreed with Burns. Powell said, "That is wrong. There are differences."
Powell added that the President's comments should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign that he intends to reappoint Burns when Burns' team as chairman of the Federal Reserve expires in January.
On other topics, the President:
Reaffirmed his opposition to federal funding of abortions and said the federal government is "trying to take other means to make sure that abortions are not necessary."
Said he expects to outline "the principles" of a national health insurance program by next year, but stopped short of committing himself to introducing national health insurance legislation next year. Carter said it is too early to talk about the specifics of a national health insurance program or a timetable for enactment.
Declined to discuss specific aspects of his pending tax revision plan, expected to be submitted to Congress next year. The President said he will wait for assessments of the likely economic impact of Social Security financing and energy legislation before making final tax revision decisions.
Said he was unaware of allegations that one of his nominees to the Irby Turner, was a member of a White Citizens Council in Mississippi who worked against school integration in that state. "I would have to know more about the circumstances before I would consider withdrawing the nomination," he said.
The news conference was Carter's 19th since taking office and one of the few in which he did not begin with an announcement or statement. The President, who in recent weeks has begun to show visible signs of his long work days, appeared tired. Many of his answers to questions lacked his customary ring of certainty.
The compromise version of the Humphrey-Hawkins legislation that the President is expected to endorse next week was supported yesterday by the Full Employment Action Committee, which represents most of the 32 major organizations supporting the bill.
The national unemployment rate is currently 7 per cent.
The sharply watered-down compromise was accepted by the liberals for two reasons:
First, sponsors knew they needed Carter's full support of the bill in order to push the legislation through Congress next year, and the President had flatly refused to endorse the earlier, more ambitious, version of the measure.
Second, even in its diluted form, the bill still would establish economic benchmarks that liberals can use to criticize the administration in coming years if it falls short of meeting them. Labor, which distrusts the Carter administration as too conservative, particularly wanted this second point.
After the liberals' meeting yesterday, Murray Finley, president of the Amalgamated clothing and Textile Workers' Union, told reporters the vote had been unanimous, and if the bill that emerges from the White House is the same presented to the group, "we're going to give it our complete and wholehearted support." He termed it "landmark legislation."