House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) has told President Carter he will personally try to block any legislation aimed at repealing Carter's new oil import fee -- a significant step toward saving the controversial levy.
Sources said O'Neill told the president in a breakfast session he has "no intention of scheduling the resolution for floor action" anytime in the foreseeable future, even if it is approved quickly by the House Ways and Means Committee.
The speaker's tough new stance could have a major effect in stymying the rollback legislation. If the repeal measure itself were kept off the House floor, sponsors would have to resort to trying to tack it on to other bills.
Carter is engaged in a two-front battle to save the import levy, first by appealing a federal court decision that ruled the oil fee illegal, and then by trying to stave off efforts in Congress to repeal the fee.
The president repeatedly has warned he will veto any rollback legislation, but congressional leaders have been wary that they might not have enough votes to prevent an override.
O'Neill's new plan emerged as Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates joined other members of the oil exporters' cartel in raising their crudeoil prices $2 a barrel, while Venezuela announced an increase on its crude oil by between $1 and $3.50 a barrel.
The announcements left only Nigeria still hewing, at least temporarily, to the previous price level. The increases, if fully passed on by refiners, could raise gasoline prices here by up to 4 cents a gallon.
Carter proposed the oil import levy as part of his March 14 anti-inflation plan, both to spur more conservation of gasoline and to help bring in new revenues to guarantee a budget surplus.
The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote overwhelmingly tomorrow to approve the measure to roll back Carter's authority to impose the fee, after having put off action a week on a parliamentary snag.
Although most observers expect both the House and Senate to support the rollback by large majorities. Treasury Secretary G. William Miller predicted the lawmakers would change their minds when it came to a vote on a veto-override.
Miller told a television audience yesterday that "in the last analysis the congressmen will come to realize that these easy votes that show that they're trying to hold down this conservation fee will turn into statesmanship . . . ."
Carter yesterday made a personal appeal to O'Neill and House majority leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) to help stave off the anti-import fee forces. News of O'Neill's decision emerged after that mid-morning meeting.
O'Neill presumably would seek to block the measure informally, by having it delayed in the House Rules Committee. House leaders have staved off floor action in a similar fashion before.