Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt told a House subcommittee yesterday that enactment of a bill proposed by that panel's chairman to revise the trucking regulatory system may prove to add to the nation's inflation rate.
Goldschmidt said the bill, proposed by Rep. James Howard (D-N.J.) and three other members of the House surface transportation subscommittee, does not do enough to promote competition in the trucking industry.
"It doesn't do enough to open up entry, it allows price fixing to continue indefinitely, and, in light of these weaknesses, it offers too much pricing flexibility to carriers, to the detriment of shippers and consumers," Goldschmidt said.
"The end result of this combination may well be inflationary," he said.
The bill before the House subcommittee, however, is dramatically different from legislation now under consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee that adopts many of the proposals in the Carter trucking deregulation package.
In fact, the key part of that package, which calls for a lifting of the antitrust immunity that allows trucking industry rate bureaus to set rates, is not included in the bill before the House subcommittee.
Goldschmidt said the administration is "extremely disturbed" that the bill would not lift the federal law that allows the industry's pricing practices to continue.
"What it all means is that price-fixing adds to the costs of consumers and shippers, and we think it essential that this committee develop legislation which will phase out price-fixing," Goldschmidt said. He was accompanied by Donald Flexner, the deputy assistant attorney general.
One skeptical member of the committee said he doubted whether the Transportation Department could back up Goldschmidt's claim that trucking deregulation could cut truck rates by as much as 15 percent.
"I doubt seriously you can prove that there will be any benefit to the ultimate consumer," said Rep. William Harsha (R-Ohio), a cosponsor.