The White House yesterday dropped its emphasis on the sacrifices Presidents Carter's energy program will require and instead started picturing it as a boon to the average American consumer.
In a statement containing the first cost-and-benefit figures, the administration said low-and moderate-income families will get back more in tax rebates than they will spend on higher energy prices.
The proposals will actually cut the cost of energy for average families, the White House said. They would expect to pay $1,145 a year for energy in 1985 under the President's proposals, about 16 per cent less than if his proposals are not adopted.
In his sixth formal news conference, Carter also emphasized the program's financial benefits for consumers.
He disclosed for the first time that rebates under the standby gasoline tax he has asked for would amount to $25 per person per year for every nickel of additional tax.
Even people who do not drive would get the gasoline tax rebate, he said.
Carter also disclosed for the first time that rebates on the wellhead tax, which he wants to raise the price of old oil, will amount to $47 per person per year when it is fully phased in after January, 1980.
A family of four that travels 10,000 miles a year in a car getting 27 miles per gallon, the President said, would pay $91 more in fuel taxes, but would get back a $500 rebate, if the standby gasoline tax was 25 cents a gallon. They would get the rebate regardless of their income.
Many of the precise details on rebates and other aspects of Carter's program are still being debated among administration energy experts.
Some will be made public Monday, when the White House expects to unveil the National Energy Policy as a detailed, 100-page book.
An aide to White House energy edviser James R. Schlesinger said 300,000 copies should be ready for distribution Monday even though "we're still writing it right now."
The President said his proposals will have some inflationary impact, and might create some jobs. He indicated that some of the money collected from additional taxes on fuel might not be returned directly to an classes of consumers.
Some of the options considered, he said, were using part of the money to pay for federalization of the welfare system, or to pay for unemployment programs.
" . . . I don't know what I and the Congress will work out during the next two or three months ahead," he said . . . "If a better option should arise, then this will be debated openly and we will make a judgment accordingly."
He is presently inclined, he said, to see that gasoline and fuel tax increases "to a substantial degree, are refunded directly to the people . . . in the form of tax credits."
Carter revealed a number of new details about his program during the half-hour morning news conference.
He denied that his standby gasoline tax proposal is merely a bargaining chip, to be traded away in negotiations with Congress for something else.
" . . . I am deeply dedicated to the gasoline tax and will fight to it until the last vote in the Congress," he said.
He said he does not think his proposals violate campaign pledges to deregulate the price of natural gas, and to press for legislation preventing oil companies from owing coal companies or other competing forms of energy.
And he said that in asking for a $30 million to $50 million tax break for independent oil drillers, he wants to make sure the tax break is not used as a tax shelter for people whose income is not oil-related.
One of those who took advantage of such a tax shelter last year is Carter's new CIA director, Adm. Stansfield Turner, who reduced his income taxes by nearly $11,000 by claiming $25,000 in losses for "intangible" oil drilling costs.
Items the President touched on included:
He sees no need for gasoline rationing if his proposals are adopted, but rationing would be a fallback position if milder measures were not sufficient.
Although mass transit is not part of his energy program, present efforst of expand mass transit " . . . will be continued and I think would perhaps be expanded."
He sess no possibility of substantially" increasing hydroelectric power beyond its present 4 per cent of the nation's energy supply.
The inflationary impact of his program "would probably be less than one-half of 1 per cent per year.""Conservative" studies show it will have no adverse economic impact and "some computer model studies show that it will actually increase the number of jobs by several hundred thousand and have a beneficial effect on our economy."
He does not think it is possible to completely decontrol the price of oil and natural gas " . . . in the immediate future. I think the adverse impact on consumers and on our economy would just be too severe."
If energy-producing companies are required to make public their profits and losses on each individual step of energy production, " . . . It will be almost instantly obvious that unfair within the energy-producing area, and the antitrust laws can take care of it."
The total cost for his energy proposals through 1985, "as best we can determine it, and a lot of this is conjecture," would be $4 billion. "But with that $4 billion we would have purchased and laced in storage a billion barrels of oil for a reserve in case we have an embargo . . ."
An aide to Schlesinger explained later that Carter's $4 billion figure represented out-of-pocket costs to the Treasury once all of the income, including taxes that would be rebated, was added up and stacked against all of the expenses, including the cost of the oil reserve.
The billion barrels of oil could supply United States needs for 10 months, Carter said, and would be worth $13.5 billion at present prices.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman (D-Ore.) told a breakfast meeting with reproters that he hopes to begin two and a half to three weeks of hearings on the program on May 16, "so we can spend most of June writing the legislation, and perhaps send it to the House floor before the August recess.
"We'll make some changes, obviously, but not in the main thrust," Ullman said. "The President's broad program, as modified by Congress, will be passed."
Similar comments came from Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), chairman of the special 37-member House committee established this week to put together a single major energy bill.
Ashley said the committee may not endorse every one of Carter's proposals but would certainly "tilt" in favor of his program.
The President may face a tougher fight in the Senate where a "Republican alternative" is being prepared.
Senate Republican leaders said it would not include the taxes on gasoline, oil and natural gas that have drawn a lot of opposition from congressional Republicans. It will rely instead on "free-market" pricing to raise the cost of energy and discourage its use, they said, and will contain some of the conservation incentives recommended by Carter, such as tax breaks for home insulation.
Republican National Chairman Bill Brock, Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, and House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes of Arizona asked the major television networks for broadcast time to present their alternative, perhaps next week.
Free-market pricing, the Republican leaders said, would provide greater incentives for oil and gas producers to explore for and develop new supplies.
Former President Ford had proposed a similar approach, but coupled it with a "windfall profits tax" to prevent petroleum companies from reaping huge profits on older, cheaper oil and gas discovered and developed years ago.
Ullman said he is optimistic about the chances for passage because "what's vastly different from two years ago is the President's personal commitment to the program. Not just talking to the people on TV, but working with governors and mayors."
While there is "no constituency for a gas tax" in the House, Ullman said, "there is a constituency for solving the basic energy problem and that's what we have to work to."
Carter's request that Congress rescind an action it took in last year's Tax Reform Act and give independent oil drillers a $30 million to $50 million tax break is "going to be matter of major controversy,"Ullman predicted.