Robert S. Strauss, newly appointed president counselor on inflation, said yesterday that the current rate of inflation is "unacceptable," and that he had been directed by the president to "attack aggressively."
But in an interview upon his return yesterday from trade negotiations in Europe, Strauss warned the public not to expect quick or dramatic results from the inflation attack, nor to consider him "some kind of a czar. I think the kind of thing we're going to try to do is to chip away at it, to keep it in bounds," he said.
Strauss nonetheless emphasized that the president had given priority to the inflation fight. "The American public is scared to death of inflation," Strauss said. "They're frightened of what's happening to their money, their savings, and their salaries."
Strauss met yesterday with President Carter and White House aide Stuart E. Eizenstat, who had helped convinced the President that he needed Strauss in an inflation trouble-shooting role.
Afterwards Strauss said the president had directed him "to move against inflation and speak with the authority of his voice - he said, 'get into business, and let me know when you need me, call me when you need me.' The president and I have developed a close working relationship . . ."
He later met also with Vice President Mondale and Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal. He has made no decisions yet on operational strategy, such as a possible beefing-up of the current watchdog agency, the Council on Wage and Price Stability.
He said his anti-inflation role would not interfere with his principal job as special trade representative and in fact would enhance his prestige in tariff and trade affairs.
His intention, Strauss said, "is to bring the moral suasion and power of the White House to bear on all sectors (of the economy), to spot problems, and to try to get to grips with them."
Although he hasn't had time to formulate specific plans, Strauss made clear that the prototype of his planned operation was the recent successful "jawboning" effort which resulted in the paring back of an announced steel price increase by about half.
In that situation, Strauss worked closely with both Economic Council Chairman Charles L. Schultze and Barry Bosworth, director of COWPS.
"They provided the resources, and I contacted the people," Strauss said yesterday. "I couldn't have done it without them, and that's the pattern I hope to follow. It's a perfect example of how a government can and should cooperate."
Strauss strove to play down reports of dissension with Secretary Blumenthal, who did not learn of the Strauss appointment until shortly before Carter announced it Tuesday morning in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Strauss said that "Mike would have structured this differently," but that there was no personal opposition to him by Blumenthal. He stressed also that Blumenthal and Schultze "are the financial planners of this administration."
His own strategy, Strauss said, will be "to target the splots where our problems are most severe," and to get in touch "with my friends" in business, labor, and agriculture, as well as with government agencies involved in purchasing.
If leaders in these fields can be convinced "That this process will be fair and equal, they will participate. But if they remain convinced that any deprivation they undergo will only add to the fat of another side of the economy, then they're not going to participate, and they shouldn't."
He said that the president had added him "to his economic team" not because of "financial skills" but "because I have tremendous constituencies in the country, and I am persusasive; I know how to get to the nut of a problem, and attack it."
He revealed that Carter had phoned him in Geneva late last Monday night to ask him to take on the inflation assignment, during a dinner with Japanese Ambassador Nobuhiko Ushiba at the home of Deputy Special Trade Representative Alonzo McDonald.