The House Aviation Subcommittee yesterday took action that could doom President Carter's chances to get an airline regulatory reform bill through Congress this session.
The architect behind the move was one of Carter's fellow Georgians, Rep. Elliott Levitas (D-Ga.).
After six days of intensive mark-up on the administration-backed bill to reduce regulation of the airline industry, the subcommitteeee yesterday adopted by a vvvote of 13 to 11 a Levitas try, the subcommittee yesterday substitute that gutted the key provisions of the bill.
The substitute contains a variety of provisions affecting such matters as subsidy payments, merges, government loan guarantees, commuter airlines and labor protection, and a section which would abolish the Civil Aeronautics Board at the end of 1983.
The Levitas package contains none of the elements he had promoted throughout the mark-up as essential to move the industry from tight regulation to a more competitive environment:
A statement of policy directing the CAB to be less protetetive and to favor competition when making key decisions affecting the industry.
Expedited procedures to speed the board's work in granting airlines new routes and more freedom to offer the consumer lower fares and new options.
Expanded freedom for airlines to move quickly into routes not being served by other airlines with that route authority.
Although freeing the airline industry of unnecessary regulation has been viewed as a natural Republican issue - the idea of cutting back on government control of the industry first was proposed by the Ford administration - Levitas got the unanimous support of the subcommittee's nine Republicans. Three other Democrats joined as well. Of the 13 votes cast for the substitute, eight of them were by proxy.
Subcommittee Chairman Glenn M. Anderson (D-Calif.), a cosponsor of the measure, appeared stunned when the vote on the substitute was announced and immediately declared the subcommittee recessed. The vote still can be reconsidered. Over the congressional Easter recess, the bill's supporters will attempt to persuade some of those who voted for the substitute to change their vote and support the subcommittee-written measure.
A spokesman said the White House sees yesterday's action as a temporary setback, and said the administration will be back after the recess to push for "a good responsible bill."
In support of his substitute, Levistas claimed the bill the subcommittee had written would "create a muddle," and that his substitute would permit the public and the airlines to adjust to the idea that the CAB would be abolished in five years and a competitive industry would result.
However, few think adoption of the substitute - if it sticks - does anything but kill the bill; it contains none of the provisions President Carter and the CAB believe are needed if the industry is to move from a highly protected to a more competitive environment.
It does nothing to reduce the regulatory strictures the CAB says hampers its activities, it fail to give the airlines some pricing flexibility so they can lower and raise their fares within limits without getting government approval, and it does not give existing and would-be airlines increased freedom to start new routes or stop them without time-consuming and expensive proceedings before the CAB.
Although the federally regulated airlines almost unanimously opposed the measure several years ago, the list of those in support has grown considerably recently. Last week, two more carriers - Braniff Airways and Continental Airlines - indicated support for some legislative reform. Several airlines still are adamently opposed, however, including Delta Air Lines, which has its headquarters in Atlanta, Levita's hometown.
The congressmen generally have been ss s s ubject to heavy lobbying, especially by the smaller federally certificated airlines, whose representatives content they would be force to drop service to smaller cities, and by labor unions, especially the pilots, who argue that job will be lost.
Proponents of the legislation counter that employment in the industry will grow as carriers increase their efficiency and offer consumers lower fares in the process of competing, and as more people start flying.
The legislation has fared much betwter in the Senate than in the House. A measure that cleared the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to be debated by the full Senate sometime in April.
Last night transportation Secrectary Brock Adams said he was "keenly disappointed" by the subcommitee's action, and he urged member to reconsider.