President Carter accused a number of unnamed business firms tonight of instituting "unjustified price increases" and warned that he will soon begin publicly condemning such firms by name if they do not comply with administration price guidelines.
Speaking at a "town meeting" in this west Oklahoma town of 10,000, the president said he is "deeply disturbed" by the continued steep rise in the Consumer Price Index and promised to take "firm steps" in the next few days to deal with price increases that exceed the government guidelines.
Carter said most of the nation's largest corporations are cooperating with the voluntary anti-inflation program, but added:
"I am very disappointed that many- and large-sized businesses are not showing the same sort of commitment . . . We have identified several companies which appear to have broken the guidelines with unjustified price increases.
"We will be identifying others in the days ahead," he continued."These companies will be given a chance to respond to our findings, but I will not hesitate to identify those irresponsible firms and individuals to the people of this nation."
The president said he is enlarging the administration staff that monitors price increases and has instructed the Council on Wage and Price Stability to require regular reports on price rises from firms in "problem industries." He also said the administration will work with labor consumer groups in establishing a "national price monitoring effort."
But beyond those measures, neither Carter nor White House aides traveling with him specified what "firm steps" the administration intends to take to deal with rising prices and the surge in corporate profits.
The president's prepared remarks at the start of the town meeting in the crowded Elk City High School gymnasium here were his first response to the 1.2 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index for February, which was reported by the Labor Department Friday, and to earlier reports of record corporate profits for the fourth quarter of 1978.
The rise in the Consumer Price Index at a 15.4 percent annual rate was especially troubling to presidential aides, who know that Carter, within a matter of days, will announce a series of energy policy steps that are bound to increase inflationary pressures. The president's warning on price increases tonight was the first indication that he is heeding the advice of those aides who have urged him to take a more active, personal role-including presidential "jawboing"-in the antiinflation effort.
The trip here was Carter's first out of Washington since his visit to the Middle East and the breakthrough to an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The crowd in the gymnasium erupted into two standing ovations when the subject of the peace treaty was mentioned, a clear sign of the at least temporary political benefits that the president has reaped from that diplomatic accomplishment.
Answering the questions during the town meeting, Carter:
Praised labor for complying with the wage guidelines and said that over the last few years business profits have not been excessive.
Pledged that as long as he is president "there will never be price controls on beef."
Announced that next week he will submit legislation to revise the government regulatory system and require government agencies to conduct cost/benefit studies before imposing new regulations.
Said the administration is trying to persuade Standard Oil of Ohio to reverse a recent decision and go ahead with construction of an oil pipeline from California to Texas.
The Elk City crowd greeted the president enthusiastically. In what amounted to a record for such a presidential town meeting, five women asked and received permission to kiss Carter.
While Carter's harshest criticism was directed at price increases, he also issued an appeal for wage restraint that appeared aimed directly at the Teamsters union, whose current negotiations with the trucking industry, in the view of many economists, are crucial to the success of the voluntary anti-inflation program.
Noting that a series of "crucial negotiations" are coming up, the president said:
"It is vitally important that those responsible for these negotiations recognize their obligation to show moderation and concern for the economic well-being of all the people in this nation. I expect restraint, and the American people expect restraint. Fueling inflation is not in the long-term interest of any American."
Describing himself as "deeply disturbed" by the February rise in the Consumer Price Index, Carter said the anti-inflation program will begin to show results in a few months. In the meantime, he said, "I need your total support in this fight."
Currently, the Council on Wage and Price Stability has a staff of 147, of which 41 are involved in monitoring compliance with the wage and price guidelines. According to White House spokesman Rex Granum, the administration intends to expand the staff to 233, including 126 people who will be involved in compliance work.
In addition, Granum said, inflation counselor Alfred Kahn intends to establish small compliance units in various government departments to do some of the initial screening of wage and price guideline compliance. The initial 15-member unit will be established in the Commerce Department, he said.
Carter arrived at nearby Clinton Sherman Airport early tonight in cool, windy weather. Several hundred people, many of them waving small American flags, turned out to greet him.
The president's trip to Elk City was something of a sentimental journey and the fulfillment of a 1975 campaign promise. In October of that year, still an obscure former governor of Georgia, Carter stopped here and promised to return as president. Tonight, he kept that pledge.
Much of the town appeared to have turned out to line Elk City's main street and celebrate Carter's return. More than 1,000 people, chosen by lottery, attended the town meeting.
The president lost Oklahoma in the 1976 election, but carried Elk City, although the town is in the heart of flat, rural and conservative western Oklahoma.
While Carter's greeting here was warm, there were also signs of discontent. A number of tractors owned by protesting farmers lined the high way leading into the town. "Carter betrayed the American farmer" was among the anti-Carter signs held aloft.
The president stayed ovenight here at the home of Larry Wade, Elk City's mayor and publisher of its local newspaper. Sunday, after attending church services here, Carter is scheduled to fly to Dallas to attend a private lunch at the home of his special trade representative, Robert S. Strauss.
Carter is also scheduled to address a convention of the National Association of Broadcasters and answer questions before returning to Washington Sunday night. CAPTION: Picture, President Carter is greeted by Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh and his wife, Donna, on arrival in Elk City. AP