Senate energy conferees broke their 9-to-9 deadlock on natural gas pricing in a big way yesterday: They voted 15 to 3 that they will try to resolve their differences.
It took them an hour and a half of talk to agree even to that, and some House conferees sitting there listneing suggested it was silly to resolve formally to try to agree when everyone knows that is the purpose of a House-Senate conference.
But it was the first time the Senate conferes had done anything but engage in ideological rhetoric since they began discussing the natural gas issue a week ago. Rep. Harley O. Staggers (D-W.Va.), conference chairman, complimented the Senate conferees for mustering a majority for something.
The conference was recessed until Monday to give the opposing Senate factions a chance to sit down in private and try to find a position on which they can agree.
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), leader of the Senate conferees and a supporter of President Carter's proposal to continue price controls at a higher level than now, said he wasn't sure they could rach agreement. "But we're really talking now. Before we weren't," he said.
Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), leading supporter of lifting price controls from newly discovered gas, said a vote for the motion meant members were willing to give something to reach a compromise. The Senate voted 50 to 46 for deregulation of new gas after two years.
The votes agains the motion were cast by Sens. James Abourezk (D-S.D.), John A. Durkin (D-N.H.) and Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). All oppose deregulation and feel Carter and the House already have given to much in agreeing to raise the price of new gas from $1.46 per thousand cubic feet (MCF) to $1.75 per mef. They said they wouldn't go any further.
Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) said that $1.75 had been a "big mouthful for me to swallow" and that he didn't want to raise the price any more either. But he said he would vote to say he was willing to try to find a compromise.
"I hope the fun and games are over," said Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) who offered the motion, "and that we now get down to what we are supposed to do."