The two-week Senate filibuster against lifting price controls from natural gas collapsed sent Vice President Mondale up to help break it.
Mondale, the constitutional presiding officer of the Senate, issued a series of rulings that had the effect of limiting action by the filibusterers and drove Senate Democrats into an angry shouting match.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Sens. James Abourezk (D-S.D.) and Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who were leading the filibuster, called it off. They said it made no sense to continue without White House support because they were trying to upheld the White House position.
It was made clear during a heated Senate debate that the White House was trying to end the filibuster so some natural gas bill could be patched together and sent to conference with the House. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he wanted to end the filibuster, the administration wanted to end it. Mondale wanted to end it and that's why the Vice President was in the chair making rulings.
President Carter wants to continue price control on gas at a higher price than now. The industry wants to deregulate new gas, but in recent days both sides have offered compromises.
With the filibuster out of the way, Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) further sweetened his proposal last night with a change that would deregulate new gas in nine years.
After the filibuster collapsed Byrd said he hoped to get a decisive vote today on the deregulation issue.
The extraordinary session brought a suggestion from Abourezk that Carter lied when he said he favored the position Abourezk was trying to defend.
It brought the first open revolt of young liberals against Majority Leader Byrd, who was accused of abuse of power for arranging the "steamroller" performance involving the Vice President.
And it provoked an emotional response from Byrd, who shouted at the back benchers that he had leaned over backward for 13 days and one full night of filibuster to be fair to all senators, but that now he was "trying to get senators to stop abusing the Senate. I'm trying to put a stop to this filibuster. So is the Vice President. So is the administration. That is why the Vice President is here."
For two weeks, Byrd, who prides efficiency in the conduct of Senate business above most things had been increasingly frustrated by the filibuster conducted by Abourezk and a small band who were trying to prevent a vote on deregulation of newly discovered natural gas. All indications were that deregulation, which Carter opposes, would win. The Senate voted to limit debate to one hour per senator last Monday, but Abourezk's allies kept the filibuster going by having introduced more than 500 amendments before cloture was voted.
Over the weekend, Byrd and other leaders devised a plan to ask Mondale yesterday to preside, which is his one constitutional duty, and rule on a series of points of order for speeding action.
Early yesterday afternoon, with Mondale making one of his rare appearance in the chair, Byrd made a point of order that the Senate is required to take the initiative in ruling out amendments that are dilatory or out of order for other reasons. Mondale ruled that Byrd was correct and the Senate upheld him, 79 to 13.
In the past, it has been left to senators on the floor to raise objections that an amendment is out of order. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) protested that since usually a senator on one side or the other of an issue, rather than the Vice President, is in the chair, it would be unfair to give him authority to rule out of order an amendment that other senators might not have seen.
Abourezk gained the floor to complain that the Vice President had come up to the Senate to make rulings that had been worked out ahead of time by the leadership. That was obvious, said Abourezk, since Mondale read his ruling from a typed sheet he had before Byrd propounded his question.
"There were rumors around this morning that the Vice President was coming up to making rulings to end the filibuster," said Abourezk. "I couldn't believe it because we were defending the public position of the administration. Since I've been in politics I've been told that governments lie. One thing I never thought would happens is that Jimmy Carter would lie."
Mondale asked for permission to address the Senate and said he was told by Byrd at 11 a.m. yesterday that the majority leader planned to ask for some rulings. Mondale said he felt he should be in the chair at the time because he felt a principal duty of a Vice President is to make important rulings on the Senate procedure.
Mondale ignored the shouts of young liberals until Byrd had finished. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) finally got Mondale's attention and asked if the Vice President was ruling that senators could not appeal the ruling of the chair in each of the 32 occasions on which Mondale struck down amendments as out of order. Sarbanes noted that the Senate voted 71 to 9 on Saturday not to give the presiding officer such power.
Mondale said he was only recognizing the majority leader when he sought it, which is the custom of the Senate.
Sen. Gary Hart (D.-Colo.) denounced what he called a "sophisticated steamroller" and "an abuse, of leadership authority."
Byrd, who has used all the one-hour debate time alloted him under cloture, asked for unanimous consent to respond. Sen. John C. Culver (D.-lowa) objected.
Byrd was given time by other senators and with considerable heart responded that for years as whip he had been a "spear carrier" helping senators with bills he wasn't particularly interested in. He said he leaned over backward to reason with the filibusterers. "But my words fell on deaf ears. I'm trying to get this bill out of here," into conference with the House. "We haven't changed the rules. We have set some precedents today that had to be set."hd no food recalled chief Viking scientist Gerald Soffen