The tax part of President Carter's energy package got off to a shaky start yesterday as one of its sweet sections - tax credits to owners who insulate homes - survived in the House Ways and Means Committee by only a one-vote margin.
A motion to strike the provision as bad public policy that would reward the rich for doing what most of them would do anyway was rejected, 13 to 12. Like all other votes the 37-member committee will take on the controversial provisions during the next two weeks, this can be reconsidered when a final draft is put before the committee the last week of this month.
Other issues lying ahead are the President's proposed standby gasoline tax that could reach 50 cents a gallon, which most members of Congress think needs a miracle to survive, and a tax on the sale of big gas-guzzling cars plus a rebate on high-mileage models which is in trouble because it could mean a subsidy for foreign cars.
In a series of tentative votes the Ways and Means Committee changed the administration proposal somewhat to provide a tax credit of up to 20 per cent of the first $2,000 spent on insulating a home, or a maximum of $400, instead of Carter's recommended $410. The Committee also would terminate the program at the end of 1982, two years earlier than the administration, in an effort to speed up the insulation effort which it is estimated would save 44 million barrels of oil a year when full effective.
The committee voted to require that a homeowner spend at least $50 in a year on insulation to claim a tax credit. It refused to extend the credit beyond principal residences to permit a cash refund to a homeowner whose tax credit would be more than his tax owed.
After the committee had spent nearly three hours perfecting the provision, Rep. Fortney H. Stark (D-Calif.) moved to strike it from the bill. He called it a "classic case to attempt to clutter the tax code with more subsidies that are probably unnecessary." It would go principally to the rich and hurt the poor by forcing up the price of insulation, he said.
Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) urged the committee to defeat the motion on grounds that if the committee in its first action deleted the insulation tax credit "the word will go forth" that the whole bill be rejected. He asked the committee at least to wait until the final round of votes to kill the tax credit.
Rep. Charles A. Vanik (D-Ohio) said he generally opposed tax credits but would support this because "the President wants to get people involved in saving energy."
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) added that if the section were stricken "we won't be taken seriously."
But Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okia.) said the section should be deleted "to show that we are serious about not paying people to do what their common sense tells them to do anyway."
Several members said they preferred some other approach, such as loan guarantees or interest subsidies, instead of tax credits to encourage home insulation. But Ways and Means doesn't have jurisdiction to act in those areas, only on tax proposals. Opponents of the motion to strike it out, said the committee should do its best to present positive proposals to the House.
The tax credit would be given for installing new devices such as more efficient furnaces, storm doors and windows, clock thermostats, weather stripping and wall or attic insulation. They must be installed after last April 20, the date that Carter delivered his program to Congress.
On Monday a House Commerce subcommittee voted to require insulation of most homes by 1982 by owners who can afford it before they can sell their homes.
Yesterday the Commerce subsommittee voted to require that major home appliances meet energy efficiency standards to be set by federal energy officials. The provision covers furnances, stoves, television sets and other large items but would not apply to small appliances such as toasters.