The bapartisan railroad deregulation bill that had been moving smoothly toward final passage ran off track in Congress yesterday when Republicans raised angry objections to the Carter administration's plan for a fund-raising session with railroad executives.
Some Republican members of the House-Senate conference committee that had agreed on the bill Wednesday refused to sign the final conference report after they learned yesterday that President Carter's campaign manager, Robert Strauss, and Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt were to solicit funds from industry executives next weeks, just when the bill was likely to be signed into law.
"I took it as a personal insult," said Rep. James Broyhill, a North Carolina Republican who had worked closely with Democrats on the House Commerce Committee to fashion the deregulation bill. "President Carter told us that this was a bipartisan effort and he wanted to keep it that way.
"And now we find out that what they are doing is asking the people who are going to benefit from this bill to give them money so they can funnel it to our opponents."
Broyhill and another Republican Commerce Committee member, Edward R. Madigan of Illinois, started complaining yesterday morning when Republican colleagues showed them a letter sent last week to railroad executives around the country. It was a brief note from two top officials of the Union Pacific asking their industry colleagues to come to breakfast at Washington's Madison Hotel next Thursday.
"The Hon. Neil Goldschmidt and Bob Strauss will be with us," the letter said, "they would like to speak to you and other leaders of the railroad industry about the needs of the Democratic National Committee."
While Republican House leaders were expressing outrage on the House floor about Goldschmidt's decsion to solicit campaign funds from an industry within his department's jurrisdiction, Broyhill and Madigan told their colleagues on the Commerce Comittee that they would not sign a conference report clearing the de-regulation bill for final passage. As a result, the report, which had been scheduled for completion yesterday, has been delayed at least until next week.
Goldschmidt, who was campaigning for Carter in California when the flap broke out, immediately cancelled the scheduled fund-raising breakfast. His office here, though, said the secretary did not consider it improper to solicit funds from transportation executives and might set up another meeting in the future.