The House yesterday adopted ground rules that will permit it to complete action on the omnibus energy bill next week by severely limiting the number of amendments that can be offered.
In spite of protests that the "gag rule" would make most legislators second-class members, the House voted 238 to 148 to permit only 12 specified amendments to be offered in addition to about 20 others recommended by an ad hoc committee that coordinated the legislation drafted by five legislative committees.
Amendments permitted cover several, but not all, of the major issues, plus some minor points that had not been raised in committee discussions.
Rep. William Steiger (R-Wis.) called it an "outrage" that the Rules Committee resolution would permit amendments dealing with wages paid workers on energy programs and alternative plans for spending proposed taxes, while denying him an opportunity to offer an amendment making major changes in the multibillion-dollar program program taxing industrial and utility use of oil and natural gas in [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
Democratic leaders had promised that the House could vote on the major controversies, but limited them for fear that the usual rule permitting all germane amendments would tie the House up for weeks. They are determined to pass the bill before the August recess begins next weekend to give the Senate time to act on the bill before an October adjournment.
The approved rule permits a choice between President Carter's proposal to continue regulating natural gas at a higher price ceiling and deregulation. Administration supporters believe they can win with an amendment approved by the ad hoc committee increasing by 10 to 15 per cent the amount of gas that would qualify for the new top price of $1.75 per thousand cubic feet. The ceiling is now $1.45.
Also ruled in order was an amendment permitting a "plowback" to oil producers for exploration of part of the oil wellhead tax, but at a more modest level of up to 3 per cent for one year rather than the 20 per cent rejected by the Ways and Means Committee.
The rule also permits offering a 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasline tax, with all the extra revenues to be used for mass transit and highway improvement. Half of the 4-cent tax proposed by the ad hoc panel would have gone for energy research and development, which has less immediate appeal to communities that need improved mass transit and roads.
The House will also get a chance to vote on deleting a federal van-pooling project and placing all revenue from the oil wellhead tax in the ailing Social Security trust fund to pay recipients' benefits rather than rebating it to taxpayers.
When all other amendments have been disposed of, Republicans can offer their substitute bill, which would be voted on without amendment. It would phase out price controls on natural gas and oil. Republicans contend it would increase supply by two million barrels of oil a day.
On April 20 Carter sent Congress a bill containing more than 100 legislative proposals of taxes, rebates, regulations and federal aid designed to save 4 1/2 million barrels of oil a day by 1985 and to lessen dependence on imports. Several independent studies concluded that Carter had overestimated savings by about 1 million barrels a day. The House Ways and Means Committee carved out tax exemptions that project more savings.
The ad hoc committee estimates that if its amendments are accepted by the House, the bill would produce savings of from 2.6 million to 2.95 million barrels of oil a day by 1985.