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Inflation fight pinches some now, more later

What, no Saturday mail deliveries? What, no easy access to credit cards? Middle-class Americans soon may feel the first pinches from President Carter's anti-inflation program. But these are relatively minor items -- inconveniences rather than all-out sacrifices that the White House and Congress are preparing for US industry and families.

Here is the developing situation:

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* Expressing disappointment with Mr. Carter's proposed $13 billion budget cut , the House Budget Committee has set out to cut $15.9 billion. The activist House group, led by chairman Robert Giaimo (D) of Connecticut, declined to wait for Mr. Carter's specific proposals, which are not expected until after the March 25 New York primary, and began immediate consideration of its own broad package.

* Congress and the White House were urged on by Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, who told Congress, "The sooner we get through this period , the better."

* Stocks, which lost 23.04 points March 17, rebounded 12.97 points March 18, and bonds were somewhat higher, indicating a possible more-optimistic reappraisal of the anti-inflation program.

* Politics immediately entered the situation, with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in New York charging undue sacrifice was being asked of social welfare programs, state revenue-sharing, and federal aid to cities.

* As a background to all this, several of the country's largest banks boosted their prime interest rate from 18 1/4 percent to 19 percent, with 20 percent still possible -- another blow at the building industry, which depends on the availability of mortgage money.

The country is in the midst of a presidential campaign with two dominant candidates taking different approaches: Mr. Carter urging austerity, and his likely opponent, Ronald Reagan, also favoring a balance budget but arguing for an across-the-board tax cut. In this turbulence, individual congressmen face the need of asking sacrifices from voters instead of handing out favors, the normal procedure at this point in the election cycle.

Congressmen are battered by conflicting appeals in which Washington's big lobby machine, likened to a third body of the legislative branch, has cranked into action. While chairman Giaimo calls on colleagues to go the President one better in imposing sacrifices, Democratic mayors of cities are appealing to the Democratic platform committee here to withhold federal budget cuts that would worsen their financial plight.

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Simultaneously, the long-delayed $227.7 billion oil windfall-profits tax that passed the House 302 to 107 faces final action in the Senate, with a filibuster possible. It is a centerpiece of Mr. Carter's energy program and could be the most important action yet taken by congress on the energy crunch after appeals made respectively by Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter.

Chairman Giaimo said his proposals are just a starting point. His economic outlook is more optimistic than the administration's -- inflation dropping to 9. 6 percent next year, whereas the Treasury Department is figuring 11 percent.


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