The House took a first step yesterday to act on President Carter's urgent and controversial energy message by creating machinery designed to proluce a vote on a comprehensive pill by mid-summer.
By a unanimous voice vote, it created a 37-member Ad Hoc Committee on Energy that is intended to co-ordinate the project and provide one committee to monitor and shape the legislation.
The action came amid continued congressional criticism of the program Carter outlined to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, with particular fire being aimed at the President's proposal for a standby gasoline tax of up to 50 cents a gallon.
But Carter predicted yesterday that the gasoline tax will get through Congress. Talking to reporters as he was saying goodbye to Portuguese Prime Minister Mario Soares after a morning meeting in the Oval Office, the President said of the tax: "I think we'll get it passed."In the Senate, hearings on the energy proposals are scheduled to begin next week. In contrast to the House, Senate action on the big legislative package will be piecemeal. It also will be slower, because under the Constitution the House must act first on tax provisions. However, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he hoped the Senate could complete action on the entire package this year.
The House vote to create HOC Committee on Energy, which is intended to provide one committee that can take an overall look at the entire problem and help shape the legislation to fit. A major obstacle of enaction a coherent energy policy that has existed during the past few has been that the issue is fragmented among half a dozen House committees, each jeaously guarding its piece of jurisdictional turf.
The AD HOC committee will be chaired by Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), regarded as an able legislator and a neutral in the energy fights of the last three years. Senior Republican will be Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill), third-ranking House Republican leader and a moderate. Most members come from committees with some energy jurisdiction. The Ways and Means and Commerce Committees have the largest delegations.
The ad hoc committee was the idea of Speaker Thomas P.(Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who has put his prestige on the line in an effort to produce a coherent workable energy policy. The committee represents energy producers as well as consumers, but appears generally tilted in favor of the President.
Ashley said he will begin about two weeks of overall policy hearings week after next with James R. Schlesinger, the the President's chief energy adviser, as the first witness.
When the President sends his specific legislative proposals to Congress next week, O'Neill will break the package into pieces and refer them to committees with jurisdiction - such as Ways and Means, Commerce and Interior - with instructions to act and report their bills to the ad hoc committee within 60 days or so. THe speaker has authority to set reporting deadlines.
The ad hoc committee, which consists of members from each of the legislative committees involved, will assemble the pieces into one omnibus bill and send it to the House floor for consideration. The ad hoc committee cannot change the bills reported by the legislative committees, but it could offer amendments or an entire substitute bill on the House floor. When and energy bill has been enacted, the ad hoc committee will go out of existence.
O'Neill said yesterday he hopes to get a bill through the House before the August recess, but acknowledged that parts of it face a tough fight because it hurts.
"It is going to be a question of asking members to sacrifice," said O'Neill. "Whether they will or not I don't know. I can see we're going to have our problems."
The Ways and Means Committee, which will handle the most controversial parts of the bill, has cleared its schedule to consider only energy after May 15.
In the Senate the President's energy proposals will go to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, headed by Sen. HEnry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), and the Finance Committee, headed by Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.).
Jackson plans to begin hearings, with Schlesinger as the first witness, next week. Long said he would have to wait for the House to act on tax provisions, but said some parts such as tax credits to encourage conservation which have been considered before should not be too difficult.
At the White House yesterday, presidential press secretary Jody Powell dismissed suggestions that because of early congressional opposition the Carter administration would back down on the proposed standby gasoline tax. He said the President is committed to the entire energy plan.
Powell also elaborated on Carter's statement, made during his address to Congress Wednesday night, that the gasoline tax is one of "the most controversial and missunderstood parts of the energy proposal."
The President, he said, is not attempting to achieve significant gasoline conservation solely through tax and other economic measures because that would require "much too high a tax to be practical either economically or politically."
Rather, Powell argued, the administration is attempting to set "realistic goals" for gasoline consumption with the standby gasoline tax representing "a small penalty" for failure to achieve those goals and the treat of the penalty should lead to conservation, in which case the standby tax would never be used.
Mard Siegel, a White House political adviser, said yesterday the administration is setting up an "energy speakers bureau' made up of Cabinet officers and heads of agencies and thiir deputies to fan out acros the country and "generate interest" in the Carter program.
Siegel also told the Washington Press Club, "We want to use schools as agents of political reform and the press as agents of information." Quizzed sharply about the comment, he stressed that the school idea was his own and that he was "not talking about selling the President's plan" in schools. Rather, he said, "it is important for schools to explain the problem to our children." He suggested that the Office of Education could provide "energy curriculum assistance" to state boards of education.Staff Writers Spencer Rich, Edward Walsh, Mary Russel and Susanna McBee contibuted to this article.