President Carter has summoned his principal energy, economic and political advisers to Camp David on Monday for a full-scale review of energy issues and the administration's increasingly troubled anti-inflation program.
The day-long meeting will focus on the questions of decontrol of domestic oil and mandatory conservation measures in response to the oil shortage, as well as proposals to strengthen the anti-inflation program and deal with the crucial wage negotiations now going on between the trucking industry and the Teamsters union, officials said.
The White House announcement came as the government reported that housing starts declined in February for the sceond month in a row, confirming one of the few initial signs that the economy may be beginning to slow. (Details on Page D8.)
White House aides said they do not expect Carter to make any decisions on the energy and inflation issues while at Camp David. Rather, they said the president decided in the last few days to call the meeting to refocus aftention on domestic issues after several weeks of concerted foreign policy activity culminating in Carter's dramatic trip to the Middle East last week.
"The two subjects have been very much on the president's mind since he came back from the Middle East," one official siad.
While the Camp David meeting was billed by the White House as a review of issues rather than a decision-making session, presidential aides said they expected it to lead to a series of politically important decisions by the president in the next few weeks that will have a major impact on Carter's reelection chances.
The president is tentatively scheduled to make a major speech on energy policy by the end of this month that will deal with some of the issues to be reviewed at Camp David.
Moreover, the five-month-old antiinflation program is now nearing a crucial state with no sign that the rate of inflation is abating. The Teamsters contract, viewed by some economists contract, viewed by some economists as possibly decisive to the fate of the voluntary program, expires March 31.
The president's chief inflation adviser, Alfred Kahn, who is among those who will attend the Camp David meeting, acknowledged yesterday that the anti-inflation program must soon begin to show results or be considered a failure.
"I will regard this program as having failed if by something like the beginning of the summer we don't see the inflation rate tapering," Kahn told the National Newspaper Association.
Carter's decision to focus his attention on energy and the economy also was a sign of the political realities he faces. By next year, White House officials concede, the president's apparent success in achieving an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is likely to be far less important to voters than the rate of inflation and the availability and price of gasoline at the corner service station.
In addition to Kahn, those who will attend the Camp David meeting include Vice President Mondale, Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal, Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger Jr., Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, Commerce Secretary Juannita M. Kreps, budget director James McIntyre, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Charles L. Schultze, special trade ambassador Robert A. Strauss, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Julius L. Katz and White House domestic policy adviser Stuart E. Eizenstat.
Although not officially listed by the White House, Carter's chief political adviser, Hamilton Jordan, his press secretary, Jody Powell, and possibly other political aides are also expected to attend the meeting.
One White House aide said yesterday that the decisions that will flow in the next few weeks from the Camp David meeting are not expected to involve radical departures in domestic policy.
But there will be discussion of ways to expend the effect of the anti-inflation program in the economy and to "tighten" the guidelines. For example, Marshall has proposed using tax policy as an incentive to business to comply with the price guidelines, just as the administration's proposed "real wage insurance" is designed to be an incentive to labor to comply with the wage guidelines.
There is also expected to be a disucssion of how to deal with what one official called "the obscene profits picture." Business profits for the fourth quarter of last year, calculated at an annual rate, are expected to be about 35 percent higher than third-quarter profits, posing a serious problem to an administration that is asking labor voluntarily to hold its wage increase demands to 7 percent.
The president's decisions on energy may be more far-reaching than anything he can do immediately to strengthen the anti-inflation program. The most "prickly" issue to be discussed at Camp David, in the words of one White House official, is what to do about oil price controls.
Under law Carter can end controls on June 1, but that no longer is considered a serious option within the administration. Instead, the most likely decision, according to Energy Department officials, involves continued controls in some form and the imposition of a new tax on producers designed to prevent them from reaping any shortterm benefits from the turmoil in oil markets that has driven up spot-market prices.
The Camp David meeting will also focus on mandatory conservation measures to deal with the oil shortage. Among the measures being considered are amndatory thermostat settings and Sunday service station closings.
The president, through the U.S. delegation to the International Energy Agency, has committed the country to a 1-million-barrel-a-day reduction in consumption by the end of this year to offset the shortfall in Iranian production.
Carter is also expected to be urged by Schlesinger and Kahn to seek congressional approval for the export of Alaskan oil to Japan in exchange for foreign oil delivered to U.S. markets.