The Carter administration, outlining its legislative priorities for the year, yesterday acknowledged it has little realistic hope of passing its welfare-revision legislation in this session of Congress.
As President Carter met with congressional leaders of both parties to plug for positive action on his top-priority projects - energy, the tax package and the Panama Canal treaties - two senior White House aides, in separate interviews, said postponement of action on welfare revision was inevitable.
Both said the White House hopes for favorable action on the welfare bill by the House this year, but not early enough to clear the Senate as well. Both said they believed House passage this year would make it easier to pass a welfare revision law in the next Congress, even though action would have to begin anew next January.
Their comments recalled the fate of a similar measure in the Nixon administration. The Nixon welfare revision passed the House in 1971, but was stalemated in the Senate and never revived.
House leadership sources said they thought Carter would be "lucky" to see his proposal passed by the House, even before the virtual concession of the impossibility of Senate action.
Rep. James C. Corman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Welfare, said [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tomorrow members are going to be saying to me, 'What the hell are we doing batting our brains out?'"
Cormon added, "I can't believe the administration would be putting us through what they are putting us through if they're not serious about getting welfare reform."
An hour after Corman's reaction, one of the White House aides called a reporter to say he had checked further and thought there was a chance of favorable Senate action this year.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass) said after the bipartisan leadership meeting with Carter that he would schedule a House vote on the revised consumer protection agency bill on Feb. 7 and on the Humphrey-Hawkins "full employment" bill three weeks later.
In between, O'Neill said, the House will take up bills to create over 100 new judgeships and to revise the bankruptcy laws.
The consumer agency bill is one of many "carryover" items from Carter's 1977 agenda. It was pulled off the House floor last fall when Democratic leaders decided - after a lobbying blitz by business groups opposed to the measure - that they lacked the votes to pass it.
Since then, it has been modified so that businesses would not be compelled to answer questions from the agency and the agency would not have special standing to take court appeals of other agency decisions in which it has not participated.
Even with those changes, business remains strongly opposed to the measure and House Democratic officials conceded they had no head-count as yet on the bill.
In addition to the canal treaties, scheduled for Senate consideration next month, and the energy legislation, still deadlocked in a House-Senate conference committee, other carryover measures on Carter's priority list include labor law revision, airline deregulation, hospital cost containment and child health assessment measures.
The tax-cut-and-revision package heads his list of new legislation, the president told the bipartisan leadership meeting, mentioning also a final cutoff of funds for the B-1 bomber program, revision of the foreign aid program and reorganization of the civil service system.
The last of these items - civil service revision - involves both legislation and a reorganization plan, and one White House aide said yesterday that the president is aware it will be a long and difficult battle.
A similar struggle is expected over the Carter proposal to create a separate Department of Education. A senior aide said, however, that the President would try to sidestep some of the flak on that issue by having the administration testify on the bill already introduced by Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.), rather than submit legislation of its own.
Creating the education department will require legislation. But the administration also plans to submit reorganization plans on civil rights enforcement and four other areas, to be picked from this list: disaster preparedness, border management, economic development, natural resources, law enforcement and human services.
In the foreign policy area, one aide said that even if the United States and Soviet Union conclude a strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) agreement this year, there is "very little likelihood" the SALT treaty would be brought before the Senate for approval in 1978.
Yesterday's meeting with congressional leaders at the White House marked the first time during the Carter administration that Republican House and Senate leaders were invited to the regular breakfast sessions.
Carter extended the invitation on the advice of Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), who said every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt had held such bipartisan meetings. Although the Republicans are expected to be invited only intermittently, the idea obviously did not appeal to O'Neill.
When asked what the Republicans contributed, the speaker said, "Sen. [Carl] Curtis (R-Neb.) said he didn't think there was an energy problem. He said if we passed a bill it would upset the economy.
"Really makes a fellow think deeply," O'Neill said sarcastically.
House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz) said he did not learn anything at the session that he didn't already know.
Sources close to the Republican leaders said they believed it was O'Neill's opposition which had prevented Carter from inviting Republicans previously. They said the leaders would "wait and see" whether Carter's invitation signaled an effort to reach out for Republican support.