Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said yesterday he expects the Senate to take a final vote on natural gas pricing this week because it is tired of the filibuster.
At his regular Saturday news conference Byrd conceded that a Senate majority favors some kind of price decontrol but predicted that the final congressional product will continue regulation because the House strongly supported President Carter's regulation plan.
Byrd also said he will not pull the bill off the floor despite repented failures by administration supporters to muster the votes to push a deregulation amendment out of the way and get to a vote on a proposal to continue regulation of gas prices but at a higher level.
The new type of filibuster by opponents of deregulation - delay by amendment, rather than talk, after debate limitation had been invoked - has produced sentiment to change the cloture rule to prevent a filibuster from beginning after cloture is voted, said Byrd. But the Senate won't have time to deal with this year, he said.
The Senate met to discuss natural gas for the 12th day yesterday, but made little progress toward reaching a decisive vote. It disposed of 14 amendments, but more than 300 remain which could be forced to a vote if the authors wish. Byrd sent the senators home at a mid-afternoon after failing again to get an agreement on when to bring the issue to a decisive vote.
The President's energy program, which sailed through the House virtually intact, has been having a dreadful time in the Senate, but could still be repaired.
The Senate Finance Committee rejected the proposed tax on purchase of gas-guzzling cars. It also voted to kill the crude oil equalization tax, but is expected to reconsider and approve a tax next week.
The Senate Energy Committee rejected Carter's proposal to revise electric utility rate schedules to save energy. All of these could be restored by the full Senate or in conference. Now the Senate appears likely to vote to deregulate natural gas if it ever comes to a vote.
Gas that is piped across state lines is regulated - the present ceiling is $1.46 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) - while gas consumed in the state where produced is not. This has created a distorted dual market which Carter would eliminate by extending regulation to intrastate gas and raising the ceiling on newly discovered gas to $1.75.
Supporters of the gas industry sponsored an amendment that would deregulate all new onshore gas now, and offshore gas in five years.
Both sides have offered compromises during the last week. Carter's supporters offered to raise the ceiling to $2.03 and redefine "new" gas to make more gas eligible for the higher price. Supporters of deregulation offered to retain a ceiling at about $2.48 for two years and to protect residential consumers from price increases up to a certain level.