Two powerful Senate chairmen reached compromise agreement yesterday over legislative jurisdiction, clearing the way for Senate consideration of a controversial trucking deregulation measure.
Unveiled in January with administration backing, the measure sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) would end government-sanctioned price-fixing in the trucking industry.
Because the measure would repeal an exemption from the antitrust laws granted the trucking industry in 1948, Kennedy argued that the measure should be referred to the Judiciary Committee and its antitrust subcommittee.
However, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.) argued the measure was a "transportation" bill that could not be considered in a vacuum by Judiciary. He said it should be part of an overall review of trucking deregulation -- an endeavor squarely in his committee's jurisdiction.
Yesterday, Kennedy and Cannon took to the Senate floor to announce they had worked out an accommodation that was satisfactory to both. Kennedy introduced a broadened measure that was referred to the Commerce Committee. In addition to making rate agreements among trucking companies illegal, it also would give them flexibility to set their own freight rates within a "zone of reasonableness" without intervention of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which now must pass on all rates.
Sen. Cannon pledged the bill would be "deligently and thoroughly considered by the Commerce Committee in this session."
If Commerce reports out a bill, it will then be referred to the Judiciary Committee for up to 30 days for review of the parts that amend the antitrust laws. The bill could not be amended by Kennedy's committee but could be changed on the floor.
The antitrust exemption under attack by the bill allows regulated trucking companies to meet privately to discuss and decide on rates they will charge shippers of goods throughout the nation.The agreements are then submitted to the ICC for approval.The measure would both amend the ICC statute, eliminating its power to approve the agreements, and amend the antitrust laws to make the price-fixing in the industry subject to the same criminal penalties to which unregulated businesses are subject.
The bill would also allow motor carriers to set their own rates without ICC approval within a certain zone. The ICC would not be able to suspend or declare illegal freight rate changes that are no greater than 7 percent above, or 20 percent below, the rates in effect on Jan. 1, 1979.
The Kennedy-Cannon compromise avoids what could have become a nasty showdown on the Senate floor; each had been lobbying for votes on a jurisdictional vote. The accommodation may also put pressure on the Carter administration to make up its mind on the trucking deregulation issue -- an issue it had put on the back burner until the conclusion of the current Teamsters negotiations for a nationwide contract the administration hopes will fall within its anti-inflation hopes will fall within its anti-inflation guidelines.
Although the administration backed the earlier rate bureau measure, it had no position yet on the new measure, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Cannon has scheduled a committee hearing next week for an overview of trucking deregulation.