House-Senate conferees began negotiations over tax parts of President Carter's energy program yesterday with sparring over tax credits for home insulation that were approved by both chambers.
This should guarantee their survival, but Republicans who opposed giving homeowners tax breaks for doing what common sense should make them do will make an attempt to delete the section from the bill. They are expected to lose.
The tax conferees, consisting mostly of members from the two tax-writing committees, split off from the conference that has been working on nontax parts of the nergy package for three weeks, to try to speed final action. All their auctions must be ratified by the full conference, and on major controversies such as Carter's proposed crude oil tax and a Senate plan to lift price controls from natural gas, the full conference committee will meet.
The tax conferees must try to reconcile vast differences between Carter's energy taxes which the House approved and the energy tax incentives voted by the Senate. Carter's energy speech to the nation Tuesday evening did not appear to have turned any of the conferees around. But neither did it make anyone angry.
"He laid out a broad path for us to follow," said Rep. Joe D. Waggonner (DLa.), an oil-gas industry champion who opposes Carter on key parts of the bill. Others who have critized the President's program for not doing enough to increase energy production, noted that he spoke of the need for more production.
The House and Senate bills both provide a tax credit of 20 per cent of the cost of insulating or otherwise weatherizing residences up to a maximum credit of $400. This would be substracted from the individual's income tax due.
The Senate made the tax credit refundable. This means that if the credit is greater than the tax due, the difference would be paid to the homeowner or renter by check from the treasury. House memebrs dug in for a fight against making the credit refundable. This has been an issue between the two bodies in othe rtax fights and is a mojor factor here because the Senate would also make other multibillion-dollar tax credits refundable in cash to industries for more oil production or industrial conversion to coal. As on most other issues discussed yesterday, a decision was deferred.
Most of the afternoon session was devoted to arguing over what besides insulation, storm windows and other easily identifiable weatherizing items should be made eligible for the tax. The Senate added several to the House list which added $5 billion to the estimated cost.
Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio) grumbled that the Senate had brought over a "Christmas Tree bill" with high costs and dubious energy saving capacity. This is a frequent House description of tax bills which the Senate loads up with goodies, many of which are dropped in conference.
The House suggested empowering the Secretary of the Treasury to decide which items such as heat pumps and wood stoves added by the Senate should be eligible for the credit.
Meanwhile, conferees on the nontax parts of the bill dropped a Senate provision that would have exempted from coal-burning requirements new middle-sized oil-burning industrial plants consuming less than 300 million British thermal units of energy per hour. The Senate argued this would provide a use for surplus residual oil from Alaska. But House conferees argued that it carved out too large an exemption.