At the request of President Carter, a group of House-Senate conferees met all day yesterday seeking agreement on natural gas pricing but could not find it.
The same nine, of a total of 43 energy bill conferees, who met with the President Wednesday met in closed session at the Capitol yesterday and are to meet again the first of next week in an attempt to break the deadlock over continued price controls on natural gas of deregualtion.
Depending on whom reporters talked to, the conferees made progress, were talking in a friendlier atmosphere but reaching no agreement on substance, or, as Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) said, "We've got a long long way to go."
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), leading Senate supporter of Carter's plan to continue price controls, said he suggested the general idea of continuing controls for a period of at least five years and then providing some mechanism for lifting controls, if that seemed reasonable, but with safeguards for consumers.
One approach, he said, might be for the President to make a finding at the end of the period whether controls should be continue or removed, subject to a veto by either house of Congress. Another would be for controls to expire after a specific period, with the Prssident given power to reimpose them if prices went too high.
Johnston and Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.), the only two supporters of deregulation at the meeting, both expressed opposition to Jackson's proposal.
Carter's entire energy package, which was to have been the centerpiece of his 1977 legislative program, has bogged down waiting for a break in the natural gas deadlock. The Senate conferees are divided 9 to 9 on natural gas price controls. The House conferees have a solid majority for Carter's plan to continue controls at a higher price than now and extend controls to the intrastate market.
The energy tax conferees gave tentative approval to a diluted version of Carter's proposed tax on purchase of low-mileage cars. Both bodies passed a version of his tax on industrial use of oil and natural gas, but the conferees have not resolved their differences.
The conferees have done no bargaining on the crude oil tax, which Carter considers most important. The House approved this tax and the Senate rejected it. Senate tax conferees have delayed action on the oil tax until the other conference settles the gas issue.