Times have changed, and members of the House District Committee - once the stern legislative overlord of the nation's capital - made it clear yesterday that they will not indiscriminately veto laws enacted ny the D.C. City Council under its home rule powers.
As a result, a subcommittee all but killed an attempt by a Texas congressman to overturn a controversial city law that would restrict the operation of gasoline service stations by national oil companies and ban the future conversion of stations from full-service operations to "gas-and-go" stations.
Only the lack of a quorum prevented official subcommittee action. Chairman Herbert E. Harris (D-Va.) said he would convene a special meeting soon.
Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), whose district includes Houston, the nation's unofficial oil capital, introduced the resolution seeking to overturn the city law.
In testimony, Archer called the city measure "unnecessary, almost certainly unconstitutional and clearly anticonsumer," the latter because gas-and-go stations generally sell at discount prices.
Archer and oil company witnesses, including Robert A. Pierpont, retail manager for the Houston-based Exxon Corp., found the subcommittee members fascinated by the subject but reluctant to act.
Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.), noting that he developed a distaste for dealingwith oil companies when he owned two service stations back home, said "There are portions of this (D.C.) bill that are pretty lousy . . ."
But, McKinney added: "The people of the District of Columbia have waited a long time to get to run their own affairs, and I want to keep it that way, even if I don't like the way they 're doing it."
Harris said he felt the congressional veto power over Council actions that is permitted by the D.C. Home Rule Act was intended to protect the federal government's interest in the capital city - something, he observed, not affected by the service station law.
Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D.D.C.), who served on the old presidentially appointed City Council, said five unsuccessful efforts have been made since 1975 to overturn actions by the elected Council.
"Thus, the prevailing attitude here (on Capitol Hill) continues to be one of nonintervention in purely local affairs, and rightly so," he said.
Rep. Charles Whalen (R-Ohio) and Newton I. Steers Jr. (R-Md.) agreed. Steers made the motion, to be acted upon later, to recommend unfavorable action on the Archer resolution.
Yesterday's hearing lasted three hours before an audience composed largely of independent service station operators who supported the D.C. law.