In a controversial display of proxy voting that finally broke up the meeting, the House Commerce Committee yesterday narrowly upheld the administration's embattled plan to raise the subsidies for East Coast Oil imports.
Critics of the proposal, which would cost the rest of the country an estimated half billion dollars a year, vowed to make another try to kill it at a committee meeting today. They predicted eventual victory on the House floor in any case.
Rep. W. Henson Moore (R-La.), encouraged by the Senate Energy Committee's nearly unanimous opposition to the plan at a similar meeting Wednesday, led the companion House move to squelch the subsidies.
If the voting had been confined to those present, Henson might have won yesterday afternoon. The committee vote to kill the subsidies stood at 14 to 10 before Energy subcommittee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Commerce Committee Chairman Harley O. Staggers (D-W.Va.) began casting proxies that absent members had entrusted to them.
With Moore vainly insisting that the meeting be called to a halt in mid-vote "because of the way the proxies were (being) cast," the outcome was quickly turned around. The final result was a 24-to-16 rejection of Moore's proposal to prohibit any higher subsidies for residual or refined fuel oil for a one-year period starting May 1.
Some of the proxy votes were cast with obvious hesitation, since many of the absent had not specified which way they wanted Staggers or Dingell to vote them on the issue. At one point, Staggers told the committee clerk to put Rep. Charles J. Carney (D-Ohio) down as voting "no" on Moore's amendment because he "assumed" that was the way Carney would have wanted it.
"You assume?" Rep. Samuel L. Devine (R-Ohio) interrupted in incredulous tones.
Somewhat more authoritatively this time, Staggers announced that Carney would vote "no."
Moments later, Dingell changed the proxy of Rep. Paul G. Roger (D-Fla.), from voting against the higher subsidies to voting for them.
At that, Moore began pressing for a "point of order," demanding that the meeting be terminated instantly because the House was in session at that moment and the committee was being allowed to conduct contemporaneous business only by unanimous consent.
Staggers ignored the Louisiana Republican at first, then finally told him, "I don't think anything can interrupt a roll call." With the roll call finally done," Rep. Bob Eckhardt (D-Tex.) got out of his seat and stalked over to Staggers to deliver some angry remarks.
With Eckhardt scolding him from behind, the chairman finally informed Moore that he was "well within his rights," and adjourned the meeting, actually a mark-up session on the department of energy's multibillion-dollar authorization bill for fiscal 1979, until 10 a.m. today.
"I just thought I got an unfair shake," Moore told reporters later. He maintained that about half a dozen of the members of Congress whose proxies were invoked in favor of the administration - such as Carney, Thomas A. Luken (D-Ohio) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) - would not have voted that way if they had been there.
Disagreed, but conceded that prox- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Staggers disagreed, but conceded that proxies were a recurring headache. "I wish we never had 'em," he told a reported.
Moore said he will push for reconsideration of his amendment at today's meeting.
The administration was caught by surprise by the Senate Energy Committee's 17-to-1 vote against higher fuel oil subsidies, primarily for New England, but the Department of Energy's chief lobbyist, Gary Fontana, was busy at the House mark-up session yesterday, distributing a two-page memo advocating the higher payments. They would go up from their present level of nearly 60 cents a barrel to $2 a barrel, with the payments coming from refiners, and consumers, in other parts of the country where cheaper domestic oil is used.
The memo also showed that the higher subsidies would go not only to the East Coast but also to other import dependent areas, such as Michigan, which is the home of Energy subcommittee Chairman Dingell. There have been charges that the administration devised the scheme in an effort to win House votes for its beleaguered natural gas pricing legislation, now stalled in a House-Senate Conference.
Dingell had no comment other than a smile when asked by a reporter if he thought the administration was tryiny to curry his favor.