President Carter and senior aides made another strong pitch for his energy program yesterday, and he won a House committee test vote on his request to let the secretary of a new Department of Energy set natural gas prices.
The 40-member House ad hoc energy committee, created to coordinate action on the administration's 283-page bill which is being routed through five legislative committees, went to the White House yesterday morning for a briefing by energy aide James R. Schlesinger and a half-hour discussion with Carter.
Committee members said the President called his package of 113 legislative proposals a coherent program to deal with the energy shortage confronting the nation and the world and urged Congress to tackle the tough parts of it as well as the easy ones.
Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.), senior committee Republican, quoted the President as saying the program would require less sacrifice from Americans than he had thought necessary a month ago. Carter also said he believed the public would accept the standby gasoline tax - which many members of Congress consider impossible to pass - because they are willing to perform a "patriotic act."
Meanwhile, House and Senate committees took preliminary votes on bills to pull together all federal energy functions into a Cabinet-level department which Schlesinger would head. The major dispute centers around a provision in the President's bill transferring the Federal Power Commission's authority to set natural gas prices to the secretary. Some members feel this would vest too much power in the one person.
The President won a test vote on this issue, 19 to 12, in the House Government Operations Committee when Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) offered the first of two amendments to keep control over prices in an independent regulatory board outside the department. He expects to lose his second amendment today by the same vote.
Conyers said the bill as it stands would make the Secretary of Energy the most powerful person in government after the President. The pricing power enables him to "conserve energy by pricing us all out of the market," said Conyers.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee may vote today on a proposal offered by Chairman Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.) and three other senior members that would place the power to set the price of natural gas and oil in a regulatory board within the department. The Secretary could compel the board to act within a certain time and could veto its decision. A stalemate between them would be referred to Congress for resolution.
Sen. Charles H. percy (R-Ill.), senior committee Republican, said he would support this proposal if the President rather than Congress was made the referee.
Yesterday afternoon Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance went to the Capitol to warn the House ad hoc committee on energy of dire national security and international consequences that would flow from failure to enact legislation that will produce real savings and lead to new sources of energy.
Brown said the alternatives to action were "disaster" and "catastrophic." A cutoff of Mideast oil on which the United States and other free-world nations have become increasingly dependent would lead to "destruction or at least crippling" of advanced economies, he said.
Brown raised the possibility that in the event of hostilities, the Soviet Union could destroy oil loading ports in the Persian Gulf. Vance said failure by the United States and its trading partners to solve their energy problems would make energy a "divisive issue that weakens our overall relationship."