President Carter, reporting to the American people after the rigors of a year in the White House, called last night for "a new spirit" of partnership to help him achieve his unfinished national agenda.
In his first State of the Union address to the Congress, the President sketched his plans for a $25 billion tax cut this year and called for creating a Cabinet-level department of education and for a major overhaul of the federal civil service system.
But he said the main task of his administration this year will be to revive the economy, even if it means sacrificing his cherished goal of balancing the federal budget by 1980.
"This year the right choice is to reduce the burden on the taxpayers and provide more jobs for our people," Carter said.
In addition to his nationally televised speech, the President submitted to Congress a 50-page document reciting his administration's accomplishments last year and listing a broad range of more specific proposals he will make this year.
Carter spoke to a joint meeting of the 95th Congress, which began its second session yesterday with the House dealing with two pieces of minor legislation and the Senate tackling a complex revision of the federal criminal code.
Neither the President's speech nor his more detailed written report to Congress contained major surprises or sweeping proposals for new government programs. But in a presentation that overall was moderate in both tone and substance, Carter made some specific proposals clearly designed to please various politically sensitive groups.
Among these were proposals to:
Provide $7.3 billion in farm price support payments to farmers, hundreds of whom have been in Washington the last few days to protest low farm prices.
Create an international emergency grain reserve of up to 6 million metric tons to help meet U.S. food aid commitments abroad.
Consider extending federal lending assistance to financially hard-pressed New York City.
Increase subsidized housing starts by 30 per cent and provide rental housing assistance to an additional 400,000 low-income families.
Propose later in the year a separate criminal justice and crime reduction program.
Continue to promote development of nuclear power facilities and increase spending for environmental programs by 10 per cent.
In his speech, the President sought to highlight his top priorities for the year - in domestic policy beginning with his still-stalled national energy legislation and the state of the economy, and in foreign policy with enactment of the proposed Panama Canal treaties.
Bluntly conceding that "on energy legislation we have failed the American people," Carter told the Congress: "We know we have to act. We know what we must do."
The tax cuts the administration will propose would for the most part be effective Oc. 1 and would total $17 billion for individuals - meaning, the President said, an annual saving of more than $250 for a "typical" family of four.
Although Carter did not mention it in the speech, these tar cuts are thought by administration economists to be necessary to offset the effects of higher Social Security taxes and the higher energy prices that would result from enactment of the national energy legislation.
To deal with inflation, which he compared with the international arms race in which "understandably no one wants to disarm alone," the President proposed a voluntary program in which business and labor will be asked to hold their wage and price increase below their average increases of the last two years.
The tax cuts he proposed will, Carter conceded, clearly affect the federal budget deficit. Thus he dropped any mention of balancing the budget by the end of his term while asserting that "we can move rapidly toward a balanced budget - and we will."
The basic economic choice the President made - to stimulate the economy at the cost of a higher deficit - was clearly in the tradition of Democratic presidents. But much of his speech last night had a cautious, conservative tone as he stressed the limits he sees on what government can do.
"We need patience and good will, and we need to realize that there is a limit to the role and function of government," he said. "Government cannot solve all our problems, set all our goals or define our vision.
"Government cannot eliminate poverty, provide a bountiful economy, reduce inflation, save our cities, cure illiteracy, provide energy or mandate goodness," he continued. "Only a true partnership between government and the people can hope to reach these goals."