No wage-price curbs while Carter runs first

Will President Carter impose wage-price controls before the year is over? This question is heard again and again in Washington political circles, particularly in the wake of Senator Kennedy's call for a six-month wage-price freeze.

The answer from the President's economic advisers is, as it has been all along, a firm "no."

Top presidential economic counselor Charles L. Schultze took a firm position against such controls in talking with reporters over breakfast Jan. 31.

"Wage-price controls simply cannot last the course," he said. "They build up too many distortions and pressures and inevitably have to be abandoned."

But at least one key Democrat who provides political counsel to the President concedes, privately, that Mr. Carter could conceivably find himself pushed to the place where for political purposes, he might impose such controls.

"No, it won't happen," this informant said. "At least, I don't think so. But if we run into a situation where the President is behind, way behind, and it's clear that it's inflation that's wrecking him -- well, I can't say that we wouldn't look at wage-price controls."

Thus, it seems that should the President ever make this move, it will be for political reasons in the main, with the chief pressures coming from his political advisers.

But for a president who is far out in front in the polls at this time -- ahead of both Democratic and GOP rivals -- a decision to go to wage-price controls doesn't seem to be in prospect.

How would such controls "play" with the voters?

The view of most political observers is that in the short range the public might welcome the move as evidence that the President was, at last, dealing with the raging fires of inflation.

But the prevailing view of political pundits is that such controls themselves soon get out of control and a president who has imposed them is damaged politically as the public faults him for the economic distortions that follow.

The prevailing view in Washington is Senator Kennedy's decision to call for controls was entirely political -- that he felt it just might go over well with the voters in New England, where he hopes to recoup his Iowa loss.

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