House-Senate conferees have given up hope of reaching agreement on an energy bill by Thanksgiving and now have set their sights on mid-December.
This was to have been a week of real progress in resolving the vast differences between the two chambers. Congress is not in session and the conferees would not be interrupted by bells summoning them to vote. So the theory went.
But in two uninterrupted days neither the conferees on nontax provisions have made any visible progress in settling the major issues.
Rep. Al Ullman (D-Ore.,), chairing the tax conference, announced yesterday that his group will spend this week going through the bill, on a first tentative round, making decisions where it can. The tax conferences will not meet next week because of the holiday but will reconvene Nov. 28 in what Ulman said he hoped would be a mood to do business.
The tax conferees reached the controversial crude oil tax yesterday and spent much of the day in philosophical discussion on whether President Carter's bill gives oil men enough incentive to look for oil or whether they need a higher price. Carter requested and the House approved taxing up the price of domestic crude oil to world levels to reduce consumption and rebating the revenue to the public. The Senate rejected the tax but may approve it if proceeds are diverted to producers as incentives to produce more energy.
The other group spent its second day discussing electric utility rate structure revision, on which these conferees also are 180 degrees apart. They cleared away some differences but remain in disagreement on the basic point - whether to impose mandatory federal standards to help conserve energy.
Carter's program, which the House approved, would require power companies to change their rate structures in various ways. One would be to end the practice of charging lower rates to their biggest customers, a practice which presumably encourages waste of energy. Another would be to require utilities to give chapter rates to customers using power at nonpeak hours.
The Senate refused to permit the federal government to enter this area which traditionally has been a state function.
The conferees took a couple of short steps toward compromise but were still far apart when they quit for the night.
The nontax conferees probably also will take off next week if they can settle the electric utility rate structure issue. Then the two sets of conferees will meet to act on natural gas pricing and take final action on the tax provisions.
Two Republican conferees, Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon and Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois, went on national television last night to respond to President Carter's address last week calling for approval of his energy bill, to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
They said Carter's program would not meet his goals of saving 4.5 million barrels of crude oil a day by 1985 and said it would do too little to increase production of energy. Several government agencies which reviewed the President's program estimated it would fall about 1 million barrels short of his goal.