It was a year ago today that Jimmy Carter sent his energy plan to Congress. "The moral equivalent of war," he called it.
The President proposed the enactment of new taxes and other devices to drive up the price of oil and natural gas and discourage their consumption.
The objectives were diplomatic as well as economic: to reverse the country's increasing and costly dependency on Arab and other foreign oil. Carter said the program was a test of both the national will and his own administration's effectiveness.
Today, however, the energy legislation remains in a House-Senate conference committee, where it has been stuck since Thanksgiving.
The President says the country should feel shame at this. Not everyone agrees.
There are a number of reasons - or rationalizations - for the failure of the bill.
One is glut. Partly thanks to Alaskan oil that started flowing into the lower 48 states last year, partly for other reasons, the energy problem in the United States right now is surfeit rather than shortage.
The Department of Energy has had to consider a plan to export U.S. oil to Japan. The Texas Railroad Commission has quietly acted to restrict production of natural gas, to keep prices from falling.
The experts say it is only temporary, but it is hard to persuade people of the need for national sacrifice in times like these.
In the upside-down world of energy, where good things are bad for us and vice versa, this basic problem of glut has been compounded by the problem of peace.
We are learning to live with OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries whose members now supply us with nearly half our daily oil.
For various reasons the Saudis and other Arab oil producers no longer seem as menacing as they did some years ago, nor do the Israelis seem as blameless. Perhaps because of oil, U.S. political perceptions have shifted; so at least say the polls.
Nor do the economic implications of energy dependency seem as fearsome as they once did. The dollars we spend for oil have created unfavorable balances of trade and payments; there is a dollar glut abroad, and the value of the dollar has fallen.
Some experts are alarmed at that (though not all think the dollar's fall in linked to oil). For one thing, it has added to inflation; imported goods cost more. But the falling value of the dollar also has added to the attractiveness of U.S. goods in foreign markets; measured in foreign currencies, U.S. goods cost less.
So as a nation we may be gaining in production for export and jobs what we are losing in inflation.
The Carter energy recommendations also have run into problems in domestic terms. His proposals perhaps could help on the inflation front by stabilizing the value of the dollar.In a more direct sense, however, they would add to inflation.
Their basic intent is to increase prices. The crude oil tax Carter has proposed would lift the price of that product more than 50 percent at the refinery gate, and he would also relax significantly the present federal price controls on natural gas.
Congress voted for one big tax increase just a few months ago. That was in Social Security taxes, and members already are having second thoughts. It is hard to ask them to vote for another big tax price increase now, in an election year and time of plentiful supply.
As Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) says, "Nobody is going to run on the President's energy plan, regardless of what comes out of the conference committee."
That is especially true because there are also doubts about how much Carter energy Plan is based on CIA and other estimates of an oil squeeze in the 1980s, identified in this chart as a supply shortfall.
good the tax and price increases would do.
The administration claims that with its plan in place, oil imports would be 4.5 million barrels less per day by 1985 than if no action is taken.
Outside groups, including the Congressional Budget Office and General Accounting Office, have disputed these estimates as optimistic. Among many other things, the estimates assume a huge increase in coal production and comsumption. The outside experts doubt that is possible.
Experts also note that energy consumption seems to be slowing down without the Carter plan.
Energy consumption used to rise at almost exactly the same rate as the gross national product.
But two years ago it only rose 70 per cent fast, and last year that fell further, to somewhere between 60 and 65 percent, according to international oil consultant John Linchblau.
It is fashionable to argue that, on top of all these factors, the administration also has botched the tactical problems involved in moving its bill through Congress.
Some critics blame Energy Secretary James Schlesinger for this. Some blame Carter. Some also blame assorted members of Congress, either skillful opponents of the plan or clumsy supporters.
A few days before the President's energy plan was sent to Congress last April, his aide Hamilton Jordon said it "was going to be the greatest test of the president's leadership."
So far, he hasn't exactly passed that test. Schlesinger, however, has pressed on, saying, "We are still optimistic, the probabilities are there."
But who knows? One of these days some version of the plan may pass, and then these same people will be hailed for their legislative genius.