Even as President Carter heard out another group concerned about budget cuts next year, White House officials asserted yesterday that Carter found "strong support" for his stringent anti-inflation policies at the Democratic Party midterm conference in Memphis.
Carter came away from Memphis, White House deputy press secretary Rex Granum said, "with an even firmer determination to lend his strength to the fight against inflation."
He said the midterm conference demonstrated that it is to the president's "political advantage" tolead that fight and that he has "the strong support of his party" in waging it.
The president met for an hour yesterday with representatives of the NAACP, apparently convincing them that he will protect the interests of the poor in the anti-inflation program.
"Mr. Carter gave a very sympathetic response to our voiced concern," NAACP Eexecutive Director Benjamin Hooks told reporters.
Carter has had a number of such meetings in recent weeks with groups concerned abut funding for domestic social welfare in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Last week, the president met with a group calling itself the Black Leadership Forum, whose leaders emerged from the White House saying they were "gravely disturbed" about possible budget cuts.
The same kind of concerns and complaints were hurled at the president during last weekend's Democratic conference in Memphis. They came in the form of questions to Carter -- challenging him to justify an increase in defense spending when other programs are cut -- and in a passionate speech to the conference by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that aroused the party's dissenting liberals.
But the powerful White House forces at the conference prevailed, beating back by a 3-to-2 ratio a dissenting resolution calling on the president ot spare domestic welfare programs from budget cuts. It was this, rather than the undercurrent of liberal dissatisfaction at the conference or the emotional response that Kennedy's speech evoked, that Granum preferrd to discuss yesterday.
While Kennedy and Carter differ on how best to implement a national health insurance program, Granum said, they retain "an amicable relationship." And while Kennedy may have stirred the emotions of the delegates with his ringing call not to sacrifice social welafare to the cause of budget austerity, Granum said White House officials returned from Memphis more convinced than ever that the president's conservative course "is the correct way to proceed."
Asked about a possible election challenge to Carter from Kennedy in 1980, Granum said, "We very much take the senator at his word -- his offen-repeated statement that he will not be a candidate."
Although the president appeared to have placated the NAACP representatives yesterday, they did issue a statement describing themselves as "disturbed about reports of an increased defense budget and a possible decrease in social service programs."
Hooks, quoting Carter as saying that "my heart is in the right place" and that he would do his best to maintain current budget levels for domestic programs, told reporters, "We felt the president expressed his concerns and general feelings, which is about as far as he could go today."
Hooks also said:
Carter assured the NAACP that, in January's State of the Union message, "he would specifically address himself to the concern that Congress has not been moving in the civil rights field."
The NAACP asked the president to convene a "civil rights conference" next year on the 25th anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation ruling. Hooks said the conference should be held at the White House. "It would be a marvelous opportunity for the president... to deal with affirmative action and the growing economic gap between the black and the white communities," he said.