House Democrats won a key test vote on the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill yesterday deflating a Republican attempt to add to the bill's unemployment goals the goal of reducing inflation to 3 percent by 1983.
But the 223-to-196 vote on the amendment by Rep. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) was close, as Democratic leaders recognized it would be. They had scrambled in the last days before the debate to come up with their own alternative strengthening the anti-inflation language of the bill.
The bill basically sets a 1983 unemployment target of 4 percent for those 16 and over and 3 percent for adult workers over 20.
The leadership anti-infaltion amendment offered by Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) requires the president to set out annual and five-year goals for inflation as well as unemployment, but does not set a numerical target for inflation.
In addition, under Wright's amendment the president is ordered to set out specific programs and policies to reduce inflation and report to Congress on the progress being made.
The Wright amendment was overwhelmingly accepted along party lines by a 277-to143 vote, with only nine members defecting from either party.
But then 56 Democrats joined 142 Republicans in voting to add to 3 percent inflation by 1983 target to Wright's amendment, the Democratic defectors were mostly conservatives and younger members.
They wanted to vote with the leadership but adopt the 3 percent goal and "have it both ways," Domocratic Whip John Brademas (INd.) said.
Rep. Ronald Sarasin (R-Conn.), leader of the Republican fight for the 3 percent inflation target, noted a new price index put out yesterday showed wholesale prices in February up an average of 1.1 percent. Sarasin said it translated into an annual inflation rate of over 13 percent.
"Double-digit inflation cannot be allowed to become a trend, encouraged by evidence of congressional apathy to the hidden tax of inflation," Sarasin said. "The burden of inflation falls most heavily on the elderly, the disabled, anyone forced to live on a fixed or reduced income - including the unemployed."
But Wright argued historically inflation is low when unemployment is low and Sarasin would establish an "unrealistic and unattainable" goal.
"Inflation is not necessarily a hand-maiden of high unemployment. We don't have to have a lot of unemployed people to combat inflation," Wright said.