The Federation Council of leaders of the 15 Soviet republics met Saturday to debate a government plan to raise state-set prices on food, tripling the cost of some products.
The official Tass news agency said the council, chaired by President Mikhail Gorbachev, discussed a "draft agreement on establishing a social safety net for the population and the price-setting policy."No details were released of the meeting, but earlier in the week the official government newspaper Izvestia gave details of the plan to eliminate subsidies that keep food prices low but cost the government the equivalent of at least $60 billion a year.
Izvestia said under the proposal, prices set by the central government of most basic retail products, especially food, will increase by an average of two or three times. A date for the price increase has not yet been announced.
Soviet officials have said the price reform will likely be accompanied by wage increases and other compensation, but both liberal politicians and leaders of the official labor unions have expressed concerns that the reform will bring living standards even lower.
The price reform is expected to be the first item on the agenda when the Supreme Soviet, or Parliament, convenes Monday for its regular spring session.
Last spring, an economic reform plan proposed by then-Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov's government was defeated by the Parliament primarily because the plan began with a steep hike in the price of bread and other staples.
But under a government reorganization pushed through by Gorbachev in December, Tass said, the Parliament "no longer has legal grounds to interfere in the Cabinet's specific actions."
Tass said the reorganization that gave Gorbachev sweeping new powers and direct control of the new Cabinet headed by Premier Valentin Pavlov will allow the government to impose its price increases.
"Undoubtedly, the forthcoming session will direct criticism both from the right and the left at the Cabinet," Tass said. "However, criticism will remain only criticism. Freeing the government of stringent parliamentary control is an encouraging condition for carrying through market reforms.
"The country is now in a position when fast, decisive and bold measures are needed. No time for debate is left."