President Carter asked Congress yesterday for authority to carry out his promised reorganization of the government and promptly ran into criticism and possibly serious delay from the chairman of the House committee that controls the legislation.
Carter came into the White Hose briefing room himself to emphasize the "importance . . . to the people of the United States" of the organization powers he is seeking from Congress.
The legislation would allow Carter to submit plans for reshuffling the bureaucracy that would take effect automatically unless vetoed by either house of Congress within 60 days.
Similiar authority was in effect from 1949 to 1973, but Congress stripped it from President Nixon during the height of the Watergate dispute.
In seeking its restoration, Cater said pruning the government was "a commitment I made in hundreds of speeches" and "of the major reasons I was elected."
The measure was promptly endorsed by Sen. Abraham A.Ribicoff (D-Conn.), who said the Senate Government Operations Committee he heads will hold hearings on the legislation Tuesday.
Bu the reaction was anything but friendly from House Government Operations Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.). Brooks said the power Carter was seeking would give a President "the opportunity to abuse our governmental process," and indicated he was in no hurry even to hold a hearing on the bill.
Brooks, a leader in the fight to deny Nixon that reorganization power, said he favors more efficient government, but added: "To let the President Propose and enact a law unless Congress vetoes it is to stand the Constitution on its head."
Brooks said he would introduce legislation that would allow Carter's reorganization plans to take effect only when approved by both houses of Congress.
But Carter said he wanted "the same authority" past Presidents enjoyed and his press secretary, Jody Powell said the administration felt there was "absolutely no way" to meet its goals without that authority. "It would be a futile effort," Powell said, if Brooks's proposal prevails.
With Brooks sponsoring his own legislation, powell said he was unsure who would introduce the President's bill in the House. Powell also indicated uncertainty about the prospect for hearings in Brooks' Committee.
The Texas Democrat said in an interview, "Of couse we'll have hearings," but added that he might put the controversial consumer protection agency legislation ahead of the reorganization legislation ahead of the reorganization authority bill. "Carter was strong for consumer protection, you remeber," Brooks said.
In a sarcastic tone, the Government Operations Committee chairman said that while the hearings are pending, Carter "can start writing one of his reorganization plans. I'd like to know what they're going to reorganize. In view of their openness, they might tell us that. They haven't told me a thing."
Powell said there were no firm reorganization plans, but that the executive office of the President was a "likely" target for the first of them. He said Carter wanted "a massive study" of the federal bureaucracy by a group drawn from the public, Congress and the executive branch, but said the first reorganization plans would be ready this year.
The bill submitted by Carter would allow the President to transfer, consolidate or abolish subcabinet agencies by submitting reorganization plans to Congress. The plans could be amended by the President within 30 days of submission to meet congressional objections, but would take effect automatically unless vetoed by the House or the Senate within 60 days.
Brooks and other have questioned the constitutionality of the "one-house veto," but Powell said the Justice Department had advised Carter it is proper "in this context."
The dispute with brooks began to develop just before New Year's, when the texas Democrat visited Carter in Plains, Ga. Brooks told a press conference then that he would cooperate in getting quick congressional action on the reorganization authority, without indicating any disagreement on the details.
Subsequently, it was learned that Brooks had told Carter that he wanted that authority changed to require affirmative action by both houses of Congress.
The president and bert Lance, director of the office of Management and Budget, have been dealing with brooks on the issue. They were unable to persuade him to back down from his oppostion to Carter's proposal.
Administration officials and Democratic congressional leaders expressed puzzlement yesterday about the reason for Brooks' adamancy on the issue.
Brooks said it was because "we have just lived through a time when we saw what can happen when Congress makes broad delegations of its powers to a President. I do not want any President to have the opportunity to abuse our governmental process that Mr. Nixon assumed he had.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-mass.) has promised Carter that he will have the reorganization authority, in the form he seeks, before Congress' August recess. But Carter has served notice that if Brooks and the House balk, he is ready "to go to the country" on the issue Powell said he considers crucial to his election.