President Carter disclosed yesterday that he is creating two bipartisan administration-congressional task forces -- one on energy and one on inflation -- that will recommend new ways for the administration to grapple with the energy crisis and the upward price spiral.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, the president said he met with House Speaker Thomas P. [Tip] O'Neill Jr. [D-Mass.] and Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd [D-W. Va.] to discuss ways to organize the task forces and to get a list of potential House and Senate members for each group.
Carter's announcement came as a surprise to administration officials and Capitol Hill employees, many of whom were under the impression that the president already had task force studying those same two problems.
One White House task force, led by the administration's inflation fighter, Alfred E. Kahm, and consisting of a dozen Democratic senators and House members, met last Thursday to discuss inflation and to review the administration's voluntary wage-price guidelines, Kahn said. That group, which included Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal and domestic policy adviser Stuart Eizenstat, plans to meet again July 11.
Neither Kahn nor others who attended the Thursday meeting were aware that another task force was to be created on the same topic. One Caption Hill aide, who attended the meeting in the place of an invited senator, said there was talk of making the group bipartisan but that the administration thought it was appropriate to meet first with Hill Democrats.
The aide, who requested anonymity, said the Thursday meeting "was 95 percent briefing about what the administration viewed as the situtation and the strength of the guidelines. The administration did most of the talking."
Another administration task force, set up to study energy problem, has held three meetings, according to an aide to task force chairman Jack Watson, assistant to the president. The group, formed June 22, was to be monitored by Vice-President Mondale.
Mondale was busy yesterday preparing a report for Carter on energy before flying last night to speaking engagements in San Francisco and Detroit.
No members of Congress were invited to attend any of the three task force meetings, the Waston aide said, so it appears that the president was speaking in Hawaii of creating a second energy task force.
Carter told reporters there that he had arranged for the bipartisan task forces in a meeting with O'Neill and Byrd before departing for the Far East last week.
The president said he did not want to "presuppose" that a new bipartisan inflation task force would recommend mandatory wage and price controls to replace the administration's voluntary guidelines. If the task force recomended controls, Carter said, "I would say no . . . I'm opposed."
As for the energy task force, he said its first order of business would be to devise a standby gas-rationing plan acceptable to congressional leaders.
By forming bipartisan task forces, Carter could help mend fences with some Capitol Hill Republicans who were annoyed at being left out of the Thursday inflation meeting. While several Democrats on both the House and Senate Budget committees were asked to attend, no Republicans were invited, according to Kahn and Senate Budget Committee staff director Robert S. Boyd.
"I don't know of a single Republican that was invited, no Republican on the Budget Committee or any other Republican," Boyd said. "The invitations went out Wednesday afternoon, and I was around until late Wednesday night and nobody contacted me. I would be very surprised if there was any effort to invite Republicans."
Boyd's Democratic counterpart, staff director John T. McEvoy, said he doubted a bipartisan group could be created now that "silly season" -- a reference to election-year politicking -- has begun. "It would be very hard to have anything bipartisan," he said.