President Carter, plagued by sniping and defections from congressmen of his own party, is about to resort to "old line" political techniques to whip them into line. But not until after November election.
Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland said yesterday the administration will begin "disciplining" its more strident congressional critics, both by lambasting Congress generally and by denying political patronage to errant Democrats.
Bergland said Carter already has taken some steps in that direction in his recent statements chiding the lawmakers for ignoring his legislative proposals. The latest was in a speech Monday in Columbia, Mo.
But eh secretary said the real push would come after the election, when top administration officials plan to lay down the law to wayward Democrats. The message: Stop carping at the president, or suffer the consequences.
Bergland said if the warnings don't take hold, the administration will begin replacing political appointees who were selected on the basis of recommendations from the offending congressmen.
Under his own department's jurisdiction, he cited executives and committeemen in local Agricultural Stablization and Conservation Service offices, most of which are patronage jobs.
Such pressure tactics would mark a decided shift for the administration, which generally has eschewed traditional political techniques. Carter campaigned in 1976 against "old-line" politics.
Bergland said pressure would be applied primarily in instances where a congressman has been "irresponsible" and taken "a cheap shot" at the president. He said a member's voting record alone would not be grounds for "discipline."
The agriculture secretary said he himself was compiling a list of "about 15" House members to see after the election, and said "others" in the administration were making similar plans.
"I'm going to up there and let my friends know that the fun and games are over - it's serious business," said Bergland, himself a former congressman from Minnesota. "This isn't reprisals - it's old-fashioned political discipline."
The strategy apparently was decided on as a way to deal with the dozens of Democratic defections Carter has been suffering on key legislation. Some Democratic candidates have split openly with the administration.
Bergland said the president's recent criticisms of Congress were designed to give congressional leaders "the support they need" to bring lawmakers into line.
The administration has been in a growing rift with Congress for several months, with Democratic leaders "the support they need" to bring lawmakers into line.
The administration has been in a growing rift with Congress for several months, with Democratic leaders often chiding the White House for political ineptness. The latest such split came over the tax bill.
Bergland conceded Carter has been unable to work closely with congressmen of his own party, but declined to speculate on the reason. "Maybe it's the chemistry," he told reporters.
On agricultural issues, Bergland said flatly the administration would not buy up any sizable amounts of surplus corn later this year to keep farm prices from plunging, as some sources have speculated.
He said he had "no plans to do anything to bail out" farmers who were not cooperating with the adminstration's set-aside programs to help cut back production. "I do not intend to buy corn for the purpose of propping up prices."