President Carter accused Ronald Reagan yesterday of promising tax cuts and new federal spending that he could not deliver without dismantling most of the national government except for the Defense Department and basic entitlement programs like Social Security.
Carter challenged Reagan to provide specifics of his plans to balance the 1983 budget. He charged that Reagan's tax and new-spending proposals would add $130 billion to the 1983 deficit.
Since Reagan has pledged to increase defense spending and to maintain Social Security and other entitlement programs, Carter said there would be no place he could make cuts to balance the budget unless he eliminated most of the rest of the federal government.
Carter said "all the rest of the federal government -- out of which the $130 billion in cuts would have to come -- will amount to only $150 to $160 billion in 1983."
It was the president's second speech on economiic issues in three days, part of an intensified effort to make Reagan's proposals rather than his own record the focus of the last three weeks of the campaign.
Reagan attacks the Carter economic record every campaign day. He reminds voters that Carter the candidate in 1976 promised 4 percent inflation and 4 percent unemployment. "There's no nice way to say it: he just plain broke his promise and by doing so, has shattered the hopes of millions and millions of Americans who are strapped to the wall by this unstable economy," Reagan told one audience last week.
Early in the campaign, the president had trouble handling economic issues effectively. His radio broadcast Sunday and yesterday's speech to the National Press Club appeared to be a new effort to lessen the damage from these issues by stressing that no quick fixes are available.
Terming the economy one of the critical issues of the campaign, Carter described the voter's choice as between Reagan's proposal for "immediate consumption through a quick, regressive, across-the-board tax cut" and his own "policies that encourage growth without driving inflation up -- through needed investments in new plants and new equipment."
Rep. Barber Conable (N.Y.), senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, provided the Reagan campaign's instant answer to Carter's speech at a press conference. Conable called it "an election year pot boiler" and said Carter is only talking about the economy because he realizes it is an issue that is hurting his reelection campaign badly.
Former Treasury undersecretary Charls Walker, who appeared with Conable as a self-labeled Republican "truth squad," said Carter is wrong in saying Reagan's proposals add up to an extra $130 billion. Walker said he hadn't heard Reagan promise any tax reductions before 1983 except a 10 percent across-the-board cut and a liberalized depreciation allowance for business.
Thousands of Americans hear Reagan make such promises every day the GOP challenger is campaigning.
The president, listing the measures that he said would cost the Treasury an added $130 billion, pointed to Reagan's proposed across-the-board tax cut, best known as the Kemp-Roth plan; removal of the limitation on how much people over 65 can earn before losing some Social Security benefits; increased government subsidies for the merchant marine; tuition tax credits for parents of private school children; higher defense spending, and repeal of most of the "windfall profits" tax on the oil industry.
These, Carter said, are not all of the tax cut and spending proposals Reagan has made during the campaign.
The president also attacked Reagan's energy position in a generally low-key speech that sought to define voters' choices -- as the White House sees them -- on the entire range of economic issues.
"We have cut our foreign oil consumption by 2 million barrels per day -- almost 25 percent since I took office," Carter said. "We have loosened, but we have not yet broken, the grip of foreign oil dependency."
Without naming Reagan, Carter said: "Those who ignore this challenge, those who believe we can leave the energy challenge to the oil companies alone have failed to grasp what may well be the central challenge of our time."
In response to a question from the audience, Carter said he considers his quotations of old statements by Reagan to be fair. Even when Reagan has disavowed a statement of some years ago, that statement illustrates Reagan's philosophy, the president said.
He added that there was an apparent contradiction between Reagan's disavowals of some early pronouncements and a remark to reporters last week that he hasn't changed his positions in 20 years.
Carter also was asked whether there would be an "October Surprise" -- a dramatic event engineered from the White House that would aid Carter's reelection chances. Republicans have warned that some dramatic surprise might be in the works.
Carter said no surprise was planned and any event that surprised his audience would be a surprise to the White House as well.
Carter once again said that he thinks banks overreacted and have pushed interest rates too high, but he said he does not favor intervention by the Federal Reserve Board to drive interest rates down.