Federal inflation fighters have begun their first major price-monitoring inquiry, summoning representatives of 12 major industries to Washington to justify recent "troublesome" price increases.
Alfred Kahn, chairman of President Carter's Council on Wage and Price Stability, did not accuse the industries of violating the administration's voluntary 5.75 percent ceiling on price increases, but noted yesterday that all showed unanticipated price rises in January's retail and wholesale price indexes.
"We are on the telephone to the companies in those industries," Kahn said on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM). "We are already bringing the companies into Washington and asking for their explanations."
After the interview, Kahn identified the industries as cement, plywood, paint, gypsum, shoes, cigarettes, beer, textiles, beef, drugs, chemicals and lead batteries.
They are industries "that look troublesome to us," he said "-- the ones that seem to be above what we expected. I'm not saying they are in violation, but there's no reason in the world why we can't go to those major companies, as we are doing, demanding an explanation."
Wholesale prices rose 1.3 percent in January, the biggest monthly increase since November 1974. The figures translated into an annual increase of 16.8 percent, and were termed "a catastrophe" by Kahn when they were announced Feb. 9.
In spite of these troubles, Kahn said the administration is not contemplating mandatory wage and price controls. "Big business is preponderantly supportive of the [voluntary] program because they know that only worse things will happen afterward," he said. "They're determined to make it work. We think it will work.
"The program has just begun and therefore we just don't want to think about mandatory controls. I don't even want to talk about it."