The administration's top economic policymakers held a series of meetings yesterday on what to do about President Carter's beleaguered tax package, but apparently reached no formal decisions on any sort of compromise.
In an afternoon of conferences, White House officials reportedly reviewed the outlook for the tax legislation, and then discussed suggestions by members of the House Ways and Means Committee that the bill be scaled down.
Planners have scheduled another meeting for this morning - the first weekend meeting in months by the top economic policymaking body. There was no indication whether the group was close to any decision.
The sessions came amid a heightened sense of urgency at the White House in the face of Carter's new realization that his tax package is in trouble. Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal canceled a trip to Europe to participate.
Although Ways and Means Committee leaders have promised to cooperate in trying to salvage the tax plan, the administration is under heavy pressure. The panel members may vote next week on a proposal to scuttle Carter's plan.
The meetings by policymakers followed a session between Carter and six liberal Ways and Means Democrats, who repeated blunt assessments by their colleagues that the bill is in danger.
Carter asked senior Democrats on the committee Thursday to work with Vice President Mondale and other top administration officials to draw up rescue recommendations. Yesterday's meetings were part of that.
Meanwhile, however, the president continued to take a tough stance publicly, terming his proposed reforms "quite modest, compared to what I think should be done," and asserting that polls show "75 percent" of Americans back them.
Jody Powell, Carter's press secretary, later denied that Carter is on the brink of considering a compromise. Powell asserted that there still is "a long road awinding" for the bill before Congress finally decides its fate.
Carter told reporters that "overall the tax load on the American people is too high, as a percentage of local income. It's higher than it has been in the past . . . than it ought to be."
Treasury figures show the combined burden of federal income taxes and Social Security payroll taxes amounted to 12.6 percent of personal income in 1977, compared to 12.4 percent the previous year and 13.6 percent in 1969.
Treasury estimates show that if Carter's combined tax-cut and tax "reform" plan were anacted, the burden in 1978 would rise to 12.9 percent. Without the "reform," the burden would be 13.3 percent.
Despite the flurry of activity yesterday, there was no firm indication that Carter actually has decided to compromise on the tax package. Ways and Means members said he made no commitments, and Powell said he had listened to the committee members' arguments "with some displeasure." He said the president "still believes his tax-reform program is in the best interests" of the people.
A new poll by ABC News and Louis Harris says a majority of Americans support the presdent's tax cut program but also fear it might exacerbate inflation.
The poll found 60 percent for the tax cut plan, 29 percent against. However, 53 percent agreed that "the risks of a tax cut might be the wrong solution" because of inflation.
Carter proposed a $25 billion net tax reduction, comprising $34 billion in cuts for individuals and business offset by $9 billion in revenue-raising "reforms."
Ways and Means began formal mark-up of the package last Monday, has rejected most of the "reforms" so far, and has approved a big tax break for charities.