At times like these, two-thirds of the Senate counts heavily on the short memory of the public back home. Two-thirds of the Senate will not have to face that public for two or four years.
That is the realistic answer to the question of why the gas and oil lobby can rip the President's energy plan to pieces in the Senate while the same lobby failed to stop the House from giving the program easy passage.
Carter is quite right when he refers to "narrow special interest" as being the greatest influence on senators. Senatorial arguments in favor of removing price controls on natural gas have amounted to nothing more than the old shibboleths about "freeing private industry to do the job." "There is, on the other hand, substantial evidence that, if the controls are removed, the pubb will be hit quickly and very hard.
Carter says the deregulation of natural gas will cost the consumer $10 billion a year by 1985. The estimate is backed by some hard accounting work done at the request of Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.)
Jackson asked the Congressional Budget Officer to give him the answers to a number of questions. Ten billion dollars in total cost to the consumer was only one of the answers he got.
According to the same study, whatever inflation rate prevails in the country at the time gas is deregulated, the rate will rise by one-half a percentage point. And the average cost of deregulation to the average American family that heats with natural gas will rise by $150 per year.
Jackson also asked the committed staff to tell him how much additional gas would come into the market as a result of deregulation. The answer was a mere 5 per cent. Thus the argument of the producers that a free market would permit the country to wallow in natural gas appears to be a false one.
Jackson is no starry-eyed liberal. He is not known for his devotion to price control. He has even gone so far as to suggest that President Carter's proposed regulatory price may be too low. But he points out that, only a year ago, the industry was willing to make long-term contracts for the delivery of natural gas at 50 cents a cubic foot and that the same industry is now claiming it will go broke at the price of $1.75 per cubic foot, which the President is proposing.
Natural gas is, of course, a national asset and a diminishing one. Theoretically a stron argument could be made that since it belongs to the people as a whole, it ought to be owned by the people as a whole and sold to them by their government at a fair price that would not include a profit for anyone.
Nobody is making this argument. Yet industry spokesmen have been talking in Senate office buildings as though the question of deregulation was purely and simply a matter of socialism v. free enterprise.
Instead, all that President Carter is trying to do is what every President since Harry Truman has done, that is, prevent the price and supply of an essential fuel from being manipulated by a monopoly.
We are in the midst of a historic awakening to the realities of energy supply and usage. But the U.S. Senate is doing business as usual with themost powerful lobby in the country.