President Carter responded to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and other libneral Democratic critics of his domestic policies yesterday, emphatically reasserting that he will not alter his goals of cutting the federal deficit while increasing military spending.
In what appeared to be a calculated response to Kennedy's emotional speech to the Democratic midterm conference in Memphis Saturday, Carter also suggested that Kennedy's strong appeal to Democrats-graphically illustrated by the Memphis speech-is at least in part the legacy of his family's place in American history.
"I think it is accurate to say that Sen. Kennedy represents a family within the Democratic Party which is revered because of his two brothers and the contribution of his family to our party," the president told a nationally televised news conference.
"There is a special aura of appreciation to him that is personified because of the position of his family in our nation and in our party. This makes him a spokesman, not only in his own right, but also over a much broader and expected constituency. I recognizi it and I have no objection to it."
At Memphis, the White House controlled the conference machinery, easily winning the key test by defeating a resolution calling on Carter to spare domestic welfare programs from budget cuts. But Kennedy, with a passionate speech that warned the president of party divisions if he goes throught with deep domestic program cuts, stirred the emotions of the assembled Democrats.
The president yesterday appeared intent on expalaining away Kennedy's particular personal appeal while rejecting the thrust of the Massachusetts senator's demands.
"I have not changed my goals whatsoever," Carter said. "The Democratic [midterm] conference endorsed those goals, either unanimously, or with a 60 percent margin on the most controversial of the issues.
"I am going to have an adequate defense," he continued. "I am going to meet our obligations to our allies . . . and I am going to cut the budget deficit down below $30 billion and I am going to do the best I can to meet the social needs of our nation. I am committed to that.That is what I am going to do. And I have no aversion to an open and public debate because I think my positions are sound."
While describing his differences with Kennedy as "minor" and their personal relationship as "good", the president, with his invitation for "open and public debate," thus took up the challenge posed in Memphis by Kennedy and other liberals.
Underscoring his budget austerity theme, Carter paused before answering whether he contemplates "sharp reductions" in two domestic programs-the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which provides jobs and job training to the unemployed, and federal revenue sharing.
"It depends on what you mean by sharp reductions," he said. "I have to say that there will be some tightening of the budget in almost every aspect of American life."
Carter's remarks came after the Congressional Budget Office completed a preliminary version of its own 1979 economic forecast, predicting a modest recession toward the end of next year and little or no improvement in the inflation rate-more pessimistic than White House predictions.
Moreover, the CBO predictions were based on the assumption that Carter will continue government spending at about last year's levels. Officials said if the president cuts outlays sharply, as is now expected, the economy could slump even further.
However, congressional sources cautioned that the CBO will probably revise its forecast significantly before the predictions are sent to Cngress. In one related development, the Commerce Department yesterday reported a sharp increase in retail sales-buoying hopes about the economy.
On other topics during the news conference, the president said:
There is no decision yet on whether to decontrol gasoline prices. Agreeing with a questioner that the issue is "a two-edged sword," he said the inflationary impact of gasoline dicontrol is now being studied by the administration. Carter also said he hopes the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will not raise its prices, or if it does, that the increase will be "minimal."
He opposes orgainzed consumer boycotts, but he suggested that consumers keep in mind which companies are complying with the anti-inflation price guidelines when shopping. The president described as "illegal" a suggestion that the federal government withhold revenue-sharing funds from states and localities that violate the wage-price guidelines.
Antitrust or other legal violations by the oil industry will be "prosecuted enthusiastically" by the administration. Denying that he has changed his views about the oil industry, which he sharply criticized during his campaign, Carter said he is concerned about the industry's growing investment in competitive energy ventures such as solar energy and coal companies.
On the midterm conference, whch he initially opposed, the president said it was "worth the money" it cost to finance-an estimated $650,000-and that he was pleased that "in general the policies of my administration were endorsed."
He reiterated his support for a "step-by-step' implementation of national health insurance, rather than passage of a single health measure as advocated by Kennedy and others.
Carter smiled often during the news conference and seemed exceptionally at ease. At one point he toyed playfully with a questioner who asked for a "yes or no" response to the question, "Have you decided yet whether or not you will seek a second term?"
"Yes," the president replied.
"When will you share it with us and the American people?" the questioner asked. "Later," Carter said.