The House Rules Committee cleared way yesterday for full House consideration of a bill that would reduce significantly federal regulation of the trucking industry.
The measure would make it easier for new trucking companies to enter the business and for existing companies to expand theirs, give them more freedom to raise or lower freight rates without government intervention, gradually limit the antitrust immunity that enables competing trucking firms to agree on prices they will charge, and paves they way for elimination of many route and commodity restrictions that inhibit fuel-saving and efficient trucking operations.
In passing along the bill for House debate, the Rules Committee agreed with the sponsoring Public Works and Transportation Committee that the bill should be subject to amendment but not to points of order. In doing so, it eliminated the possibility that a controversial provision could be challenged as being not germane to the bill. Opponents of specific provisions still can offer amendments to kill them.
The provision under question, according to backers, has the potential for altering substantially the way food and grocery products have been sold and shipped. Sellers of food and grocery items who use a uniform-zone-delivered pricing system would give a discount to buyers who want to use their own trucks to pick up products from sellers, amounting to the actual cost of transportation saved.
Now, under a 1967 interpretation of an antitrust law by the Federal Trade Commission, sellers do not give buyers picking up the merchandise themselves a cost-justified discount but an allowance that is the average of the transportation costs for all buyers in the zone. Under today's system, all buyers within the zone, no matter how close or how far away they are from the seller's warehouse, pay the same price for the goods.
Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.) told the Rules Committee during yesterday's lengthy session that he intends to offer a point of order when the bill comes up for debate, challenging whether the provision is germane.
Rep. James Howard (D-N.J.), chairman of the surface transportation subcommittee, argued that it is germane. "It involves transportation of food by motor carrier," he told the committee, adding that foods chains that could save on transportation costs would be able to reduce the prices of those products to the consumer.
The provision is being intensely lobbied on the Hill. Fighting for it is the Food Marketing Institute, whose members are the larger grocery chains, and the National Association of Retail Grocers, the smaller stores' trade group. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose members produce food products, is opposed strongly.
The trucking measure that now goes to the House floor -- possibly as soon as later this week -- is a compromise that was hammered out by key committee members with the bill's two chief Senate sponsors and the administration.
If the House bill stays largely intact or is made to resemble the stronger Senate passed bill even more, the Senate bill's chief sponsors have said they will recommend to the Senate that it accept the House bill without a conference. Should that happen, the bill could be on President Carter's desk this month for signature.
Besides moving on the floor to kill the food transportation measure, Levitas has said he will seek to add a provison giving Congress the ability to veto rules and regulations proposed by the Interstate Commerce Commission, a provision the Senate sponsors say they oppose.