President Carter met with the advance guard of the returning 95th Congress yesterday and declared his top legislative priority to be final action on his stranded energy program.
He also stressed, in a series of meetings with leaders and Democratic rank and file, the urgency of congressional action to bolster the economy through his expected proposal for $25 billion in tax cuts and an additional $10 billion in tax revisions.
Congress will convene Thursday for the second half of the 95th Congress to hear the President's State of the Union message, which Carter said will embody the administration's "basic view of the economic situation and our approach to it."
"The stock market is waiting to hear what you have to say," House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) told the President at an early-morning meeting.
"We'll see how good a speech it is by what the stock market does on Friday," Carter replied.
White House press secretary Jody Powell promised that a tax plan to be unveiled in the State of the union message will be "the most comprehensive and perhaps the most controversial tax reform package presented in recent administrations." He conceded, however, that it would "not be as much as we would have liked to do and not all that we will propose in this administration."
Congressional leaders have been advising Carter to soft-pedal the revisions and get right to a tax cut and incentives they hope will boost the economy during what are expected to be sagging third and fourth quarters this year. They also hope the proposed tax cut will offset the impact of Social Security tax increases already passed and energy tax increases Congress might enact.
Carter's economic report will be made public and delievered to Congress Friday, and details of his tax plan Saturday. Carter's budget will be presented Monday. He is expected to call for a general $25 billion in tax cuts and tax revisions of another $10 billion or so.
But Carter's major priority is the unfinished work on energy legislation, currently tied up in a House-Senate conference.
Carter told junior House Democrats, elected in 1974 and 1976, with whom he met yesterday, that his "No. 1 immediate goal" is to conclude action on the energy package. O'Neill promised Carter: "Certainly we're going to have an energy bill."
According to Rep. M. robert Carr (D-Mich.), Carter also told the junior members that he may sign a bill containing less thanhe wants this year but that he would keep coming back to Congress until he got all of his energy package. Carter said he would not attempt to enact his program through executive action, saying that would lead to inequities.
While Carter emphasized the economy and energy, he did not seem willing to let Congress up from the pile of legislative requests he had built up in the first year, a pile that led many to complain he was overloading congressional circuits.
"They've throwing the whole shooting match back again, a whole laundry list," Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.), a second-termer, complained.
A major proposal that is apparently being deferred is national health insurance. Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) quoted Carter adviser Stuart Eizenstat as saying that a national health insurance package would not be sent to Congress until the end of this session.
That still leaves. Congress with a heaping platter of major and controversial issues. The outlook of items high on Carter's priority list:
Senate action on the Panama Canal treaties is virtually assured. THe outcome is still in doubt.
Senate action on a SALT II agreement is possible, depending on when the agreement is reached.
Action on a bill to control health costs is expected, though the subject is controversial.
Both the President and the Speaker went welfare reform, but pulling and tugging over the issue make passage less than a sure thing.
One skirmish due early this year is over continuation of the B-1 bomber. Congress and the House leadership will press hard for the House to terminate the program. Mixed signals from the administration stalled a resolution of this tissue in the Houselast year.
In the environment, a priority item is the issue of how much of Alaska is to be classified a wilderness, generally closing the area to energy and other development.
One of the few new proposals for this year is Civil Service revision.
The White House is continuing to press for a consumer representation agency, though House leaders are still doubtful whether the votes are there to pass it.
Carter continues to talk of public financing for cogressional campaigns, though in an election year passage of such a law is rather unlikely.
IN additional, Congress must finish action on its own ethics package, faces the problem of renewing aid to New York City and will encounter a variety of reoranization proposals - including one for a separate department of education, which Carter wants but which has serious opposition.
Laws to provide more than 140 new federal judgeships, a revision of the criminal code and the problem of Korean troop withdrawal, which could become ensnared in the Korean influence-buying probe, await action.
Perhaps the overriding consideration for many of the proposals is the fact that it is an election year. What gets done will most likely depend on how much time there is before the traditional Oct. 1 election-year adjournment.