President Reagan yesterday announced a 60-day freeze on federal regulations but declined to say whether he would stick with a number of other key promises he made during the campaign.
Responding to questions about draft registration and the embargo on grain to the Soviet Union, both of which he strenuously opposed during the campaign, Reagan said that niether he nor his Cabinet had reached a decision on what to do.
The president also wouldn't say whether he would continue diary price supports at present levels, as his spokesman said he would during the campaign. And he said he had no fixed effective date in mind for his promised tax reductions.
In his first presidential news conference, Reagan seemed in an amiable, even cheerful, mood. But he didn't have answers to many of the questions, repeatedly saying that the issue asked about either was under review or hadn't yet come before the Cabinet.
The implications of the regulations freeze that Reagan announced were not immediately clear. During the presidential campaign and afterward, Reagan repeatedly assailed the multiplicity of federal regulations, which he said added to business and product costs, contributing to what he yesterday called "the inflationary monster."
His directive yesterday was aimed at 119 "midnight regulations" drawn up in the final weeks of the Carter administration, some of which have already gone into effect. Reagan administration officials were unable to say immediately how much of the 119 regulations could be blocked or to identify the ones with which they are particularly concerned.
Reagan's directive to 11 Cabinet heads and the director of the Environmental Protection Agency postpones for 60 days those regulations which have not become effective and asks that no new regulations be issued during that time.
The president also moved to abolish the major functions of the Council on Wage and Price Stability, which monitored wage-price guidelines under the Carter administration. Reagan's directive abolished the wage-price standards and did away with the jobs of the 135 people who monitor them. Since Congress had approved funding of the program through June, Reagan filed a rescission request with Congress to reduce the council's budget by $1.5 million.
Originally, the Reagan administration had intended to abolish the entire council. But then administration officials learned that the council was entrusted with the regulatory review that is one of the central goals of the new president.
Reagan's directive yesterday reflected this post-transition knowledge. It announced that the 35 persons at the council who are engaged in review and analysis of government regulations will now assist the Office of Management and Budget and a task force headed by Vice President Bush in carrying out the administration's regulatory reform program.
"All of us should remember that the federal government is not some mysterious institution comprised of buildings, files and paper," Reagan said in announcing the two directives. "The people are the government. What we create we ought to be able to control."
Reagan said he was sticking by his campaign pledge to abolish the departments of Energy and Education but gave neither details nor a timetable. He said that in the interim he had asked the heads of these departments to do as much "streamlining" as they can.
Most of the other decisions which Reagan was asked about have yet to be made.
When the president was asked about the grain embargo, he repeated his campaign language that "it was asking only one group of Americans to participate, the farmers." Reagan said the choice was either to lift the grain embargo or broaden it to other products and that the matter is on the agenda of the Cabinet next week.
He gave essentially the same answer about diary price supports, which he said is "something to wait for the next Cabinet meeting."
When he was asked what he intends to do about the advance draft registration that Carter implemented, Reagan said:
"This is one that's something to be looked at further down. I've only been here nine days and most of these nine days have been spent in Cabinet meetings on the economy. . . ."
On other issues, Reagan:
Said he would like to see tax cuts for businesses and individuals go forward at the same time, but didn't have a specific date in mind.
Promised he would appoint Hispanics and other minorities to government posts and said, "Don't judge us now by the tip of the iceberg -- wait until it's all in."
Said there would be "no retreat" on civil rights laws and that his administration would be "dedicated to equality." But he added that some affirmative-action programs had become quota systems, "and I'm old enough to remember when quotas existed in the United States for the purpose of discrimination."
Brushed aside a question about whether conservatives who had worked for his election were being given short shrift in job appointments in his administration.
He said that some who had worked for his election didn't necessarily want jobs in his administration.
"But you also have to recognize that there aren't that many positions," the president said with a smile. "After all, look how many votes I had. You can't reward them all."
Reagan's meeting with reporters was held under new rules announced by White House press secretary James S. Brady, who said they are intended to promote "dignity and decorum" and eliminate "some of the more hectic characteristics" of the presidential press conference. The major change was that reporters sat and raised their hands until Reagan recognized them instead of jumping to their feet and competing for attention with shouts of "Mr. President."
But if the fomat was new for the presidency, Reagan's performance was reminiscent of the style he brought to Sacramento as California governor in 1967, where, as yesterday, he answered many of the questions put to him by saying he didn't know the answers.