President Carter was on the telephone over the weekend trying to round up support for the natural gas price deregulation bill put together Friday by leaders of the House-Senate energy conference.
Approval of the gas compromise by the full conference committee would help break loose the president's energy bill which has been hung up for five months. But the price of gas is not the only outstanding issue: the president's proposed taxes to drive up the cost of oil - especially his proposed wellhead tax on U.S. crude oil - are also in dispute. After the gas conferees vote this week, the tax conferees will have to reconvene.
Last month the 25 House conferees voted 13 to 12 for a proposal to remove price controls from newly discovered gas gradually by 1985. Last week's agreement would deregulate more gas than that.
Rep. James Corman (D-Calif.). who was absent but whose proxy was voted last month's plan, said he hasn't made up his mind how to vote. He received a call from the president Sunday asking for support of the latest plan. Speaker Thomas P.(Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass), talked to him yesterday, and today he will get a briefing from those who worked on it.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D. N. Y.), who voted against price deregulation last month, said he also received a phone call from the president asking for his help, but at present he plans to vote no when the full conference meets Wednesday. "From what I hear the consumer gets the short end of the bargain," he said.
Rep. Charles Vanik (D-Ohio), who voted no last month, said he will vote against deregulation again."Deregulation of gas won't save one drop of oil," said Vanik. "I wouldn't vote for it if it was deregulation by 2085 instead of 1985."
Rep. Joe D. Waggonner Jr. (D-La), oil-gas industry supporter, voted against last month's plan because he felt it didn't go far enough. But he was believed ready to vote for it had his vote been decisive, rather than let the gas issue go down the drain. Now the bill has been tilted more toward the industry.
Waggonner said he would talk to Louisiana Sen. Russell B. Long and Bennett Johnston before making a decision Johnston helped write the gas compromise but doesn't like some parts of it and hadn't decided Sunday whether to support it. If Johnston opposed the plan it would have only a one-vote margin of support among the Senate conferees.
The conference vote may be close, but there is a growing feeling that the compromise has broken the natural gas logiam and that this part of the bill will win conference agreement.
But while natural gas has been considered very difficult, the crude oil tax is considered dead by many at the Capitol.
Intended to tax the price of domestic crude up to world prices to cut consumption, it passed the House last August, but the senate rejected it, and in recent months it has been turned on by labor and consumer groups as a regressive sales tax. Long, chairman of the Senate Finnance Committee, has pronounced it dead as far as the Senate is concerned.
Rep. Al Ullman (D.-Ore.), House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said he will try to resurrect the oil tax and thinks momentum for a resolving the natural gas pricing issue wouldn't give Carter much of an energy bill without the taxes, his major weapon for reducing reliance on foreign oil.