Unswayed by a personal appeal from President Carter, a hostile House Rules Committee yesterday put off, for at least two more weeks, action on legislation to strenghten the mechanism for recapturing excessive profits from defense contractors.
In questions put to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joseph Minish (D-N.J.), committee members made it clear the measure faces a bleak future in the House.
The Minish bill would increase authority of the Renegotiation Board, the federal auditing office that recaptures excessive profits earned by contractors on defense and space equipment sales to the government.
Minish and his allies say that, with the increased power provided by his bill, the board could earn as much as $1 billion annually in recovered profits. It now takes in about $40 million per year.
Defense contractors have lobbied hard against the bill. They have been so successful that congressional critics of renegotiation predicted yesterday they will not only defeat the Minish bill, but will also pass instead legislation eliminating the Renegotiation Board.
That view was reflected in testimony before the Rules Committee yesterday by Rep. Mark Hannaford (D-Calif.).
He said he had orginally planned to ask the committee not to vote a rule for the Minish Bill. House bills generally require a "rule" from the Rules Committee before they can be brought up for a vote in the full House.
But Hannaford said he now would like to see the Minish bill reach the floor, so he can introduce an amendment that would "deactivate" the board as long as the nation is at peace.
At the start of yesterday's session Rules Committee Chairman James J. Delaney (D-N.J.) distributed to the members a letter he received Monday night from Carter in which the President expressed his "strong support" for the Minish bill and urged the committee to send it to the floor.
For the next three hours committee members, both Democrat and Republicans, criticized the bill and the Renegotiation Board with nary a mention of the Presidential missive.
"There's a feeling that we've got bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy," said Rep. Gillis Long (D-La.), expressing a common view.
"Business is always filling out some new government from. This board is another source of forms, and all the people who are fed up are venting their spleens at it."
"If we beef up these bureaucrats," agreed Rep. Jimmy Quillean (R-Tenn.), "we're going to have government in every minute of our lives. And then comes socialism."
Committee members seemed ignorant about some aspects of renegotiation and its impact. They asked Minish numerous questions about the board's jurisdiction and rules, but did not received clear answers in most cases.
The members complained repeatedly that small businessess have been passing up government work because of the difficulty of renegotiation, leaving more and more defense contracts for large firms.
But when Rep. Christopher Dodd, (D-Conn.) asked for statistics to show whether the number of small firms doing defense work is decreasing no one was able to find such data.
Delaney said the committee would finally vote on the Minish bill in two or three weeks. "I never like to say that a bill has no chance," he said after the hearing, "but it doesn't look too good, does it?"