The House voted 371 to 6 yesterday against closed meetings - of House-Senate energy conferees, meetings which were continued by a select group seeking a natural gas pricing agreement.
The effort to move the meetings into the open was led by Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), who is opposed to any form of deregulation, and Rep. Clarence J. Brown (R-Ohio), who wants immediate deregulation. Both men say they fear that a deal is being cut in the closed meetings, and both oppose it, though for opposite reasons.
Indeed, Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash), leader of Senate conferees, said we've started to mone" as the group moved from a meeting at the White House to an afternoon session at the Capital.
Members attending the closed sessions said the tentative agreements were reached on ending price controls and newly discovered gas by the end of 1964 and a formula for reimposing controls for up to 18 months if prices go too high. But difficult issues still divide them. Talks are to continue next week.
As the group, which consists of about one-third of the entire conference and mostly Democrats, met behind closed doors on the Senate side of the Capitol with Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger Jr., Moffett and Brown, two of the excluded conferees, forced a House debate and vote on the closed-session issue.
House rules require House-Senate conferences to resolve differences between the two bodies to be open to the public unless the full House votes permission to close them. The only way for Moffett and Brown to get the issue before the House was to offer a motion to close th conference and then urge the House to defeat it. It did so with only six conservatives voting yes.
Moffett recalled that only once since last Dec. 21 has the conference met open session, and that for House Democrats and a bipartisan group of Senate conferees have met in closed session trying to negotiate a settlement.
Moffett [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] should "resist any president's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to institutionalize closed meetings by moving them to the White House."
"Deals should not be made by a few," Brown added. "We should not made by a few." Brown added. "We should say to the conferees: Come back to the Hill where the House and the Senate belong and the press and public can see what we do. Then when decisions are made the public will have decisions are made to public will have some idea now it occurred."
Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), the House Democratic leadership's personal representative on the conference, insisted that the group has broken no rule because the sessions have not been formal meetings of the conference but informal gathering of a few members seeking preliminary agreements to take back to the conference.
The talks have gone underground, Ashley said, because "the conference broke down." He said the informal closed talks would continue regardless of how the House voted.
James Flug, director of Energy Action, said that a White House meeting with consumer and labor spokesmen yesterday Carter called the closed meetings necessary because "the time for posturing is over" and because "not one in a million people" would understand the complex issues.
Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.) said he telephoned the White House yesterday morning to say he was "strongly considering" withholding his support from the closely contested Panama Canal treaty unless the meetings were opened and Carter changed his position back to support of continued price controls on gas.
Carter originally proposed and the House agreed to continue controls on gas, but the Senate voted to end controls on new gas after two years, and the conferees indicated a month ago they would accept gradual deregulation. More difficult and still unsettled are expensive questions such as the definition of new gas and which users pay the price increase.