Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), responding to the daily flood of press inquiries about his presidential plans, set forth yesterday some economic steps President Carter could take that might forestall a Kennedy candidacy.
The senator told a committee of the American Newspaper Publishers Association that he would like to see more forceful implementation of wage-price guidelines and a windfall profits tax that would "really tax" the oil companies.
Kennedy also said that a general tax cut "probably will be necessary" within the next year to counter an economic downturn, but he said it is still too soon to decide for certain.
Kennedy has said he might challenge Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination next year unless the president takes action to deal with inflation and recession. If Kennedy does run, current polls indicate he would be likely to win the nomination.
Carter insists that he will win the Democratic nomination, Kennedy or no Kennedy. But Kennedy expressed comparable optimism about his own chances yesterday, telling the publishers: "If I were to be a candidate, I would expect to win."
Since Kennedy announced last week he might challenge Carter, daily inquiries have prodded him to make pronouncements that have refined his position nuance by nuance. Yesterday he gave a more detailed explanation of economic steps he would like Carter to take.
The senator said it would be unreasonable to expect the economy to "turn around" by the beginning of 1980, but that by then "one could reasonably expect to see that steps are going to be taken which are going to meet both the short- and long-term needs of our economy."
The step that Kennedy talked about most was a stiffening of White House enforcement of wage-price guidelines.
"I think there is very substantial confusion," he said, "in the minds both of workers and the business community of this country about how serious the administration really is about this program."
"I don't think there was any confusion about voluntary guidelines in the early '60s or the middle part of the '60s," Kennedy said, referring to "wage-price guideposts" established by his late brother John F. Kennedy, and carried on by Lyndon Johnson. "It was very clear among workers and the business community that the guidelines would be applied."
The Carter administration promulgated voluntary wage-price guidelines earlier this year, but has remained silent about some recent labor settlements that clearly exceed the wage standards.
Another criterion that will influence his decision, Kennedy said, is "Where are we going to end up in terms of windfall profits? Are we going to really tax? And what's going to be the attitude?"
Kennedy said he also will judge Carter's actions on energy policy, testing how much impact the president's proposals for dealing with energy shortages will have on inflation. His own view, Kennedy said, is that tougher energy conservation requirements would be cheaper and more effective than a major effort to develop symthetic fuels. The Carter administration has made an ambitious $86 billion synthetic fueld program the centerpiece of its latest energy plan, although it has agreed to accept a less expensive initial effort and to phase the program in gradually.
Finally, Kennedy said, he will watch closely what steps Carter takes to balance anti-inflationary measures against anti-recession moves. A tax cut, which would serve to counter a recession but could be inflationary, is one of the tools Carter might use. Carter has not taken a position on a tax cut and has directed his economic advisers not to discuss the matter publicly.
Kennedy's remarks yesterday demonstrated again that on many issues there is not much difference between the president and the senator. Kennedy supported Carter's positions on the defense budget and the arms limitation treaty (SALT II), and said he was satisfied to let the administration work toward a diplomatic solution in the current controversy over Soviet troops in Cuba.