President Carter has tentatively decided to postpone his overseas trip later this month and will make a televised address to the nation Tuesday evening to help push his energy bill through Congress.
Informed sources said the White House has decided to delay the President's trip to nine countries on four continents, which was scheduled to begin Nov. 22, because it appears that Congress will not have completed action on the energy bill by then. A House-Senate conference has met for 12 days and settled only parts of the least controversial sections of the bill.
The trip to South America, Africa, Asis and Europe may be rescheduled in whole or part later. Carter will meet today with Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to discuss this.
The President was said still to be eager to make the trip, even if its scope has to be cut back as soon as possible. Depending on the pace of congressional action on the energy legislation, the trip could still take place this year.
The White House announced that Carter will go on the air at 9 p.m. Tuesday to try to stir up public pressure to push his bills through the final legislative stage.
Carter launched the energy bill in April which three nationally televised appearances in one week, and the House passed most of it. But he let down the pressure when the bill reached the Senate, which proceeded to tear it apart.
Supporters are now trying to repair the bill in conference, and Carter has been busily buttering up Congress for the last three weeks.
Carter considers the energy problem the most serious domestic problem likely to confront his administration. The United States depends for nearly half its consumption on foreign oil that could be cut off at any time, with enormous potential harm to the national security and econony.
Carter's plan, which he hopes will save 4.5 million barrels of oil a day by 1985, is now in the hands of 43 members of Congress, 25 from the House and 18 from the Senate, who are very slowly reconciling differences in the versions passed by the two houses.
So far they have dealt with relatively noncontroversial provisions - such as requiring local utilities to inform customers of their insulation needs or requiring major home appliances to meet energy standards. This week they agreed that new electric power plants should not be required to burn coal if there were not enough coal near enough and at costs reasonable enough to assure reliable electric service.
These decisions have not stirred great controversy, but they have consumed a large amount of time. The reason is the way a conference operates. One side of the other proposes a compromise and tosses it to the other, which may debate it, reject it, accept it - which ends the argument on the point - or amend it and hand it back for further refinement. They say spend a morning on what appears a minor point.
If they spend that much time on little differences, critics wonder what will happen when they get to the big fights over lifting price controls from new natural gas, imposing a tax on crude oil and giving part of the proceeds to the oil industry, and trying to force revision of utility rate structures to save energy."
The turtle pace is due in part to the unique shape of this conference. It is larger than usual and the House members represent the five different legislative committees that handled different parts of the bill. This means that when they deal with a subject handled by the Commerce Committee, members from other committees may not understand the issue and ask a lot of questions.
Congressional experts at conferences say they tend to develop a rhythm as they go along and speed up.
Sen. J. Bennett Johnson (D-La.) a leading supporter of the oil-gas industry, said he believed the divisive natural gas issue could be settled in a morning if members would stop getting emotional about "ripoffs" and "private enterprise" and try to work out a compromise. Johnson said he can see the elements of a compromise.
In an effort to speed work on the bill the conferees will informally split up and go on a two track schedule beginning sometime next week.
Now that the Senate has passed its version of the energy tax bill conferees from the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will hold informal sessions separate from the main conference. They will try to reach informal agreements on tax issues while the main body of the conference will continue to work on non-tax issues such as coal conversion utility rate structures and natural gas.
Conferees such as Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) who fear Carter will make a deal with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La). giving away too much to the oil industry have been resisting letting Chairman Al Ullman (D-Ore) and his Ways and Means conferees go off in a separate room with Long to reach agreements - even though they must be ratified by the full conference Moffett fears Ullman will give away too much, too.
Moffett said it was agreed that Rep. Thomas L. Ashely (D-Ohio), who chaired the ad hoc energy committee in the House and fought for a tough energy bill would sit in as Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill's representative at any meetings of the tax-writing conferees.