The House has delayed sending the Treasury appropriation bill to conference to avoid further embarrassment to President Carter on oil import fees just before he goes to the economic summit in Bonn this weekend.
Two weeks ago, after Carter threatened to impose import fees on foreign oil if Congress rejected his energy tax program, the Senate attached language to the Treasury department's budget banning oil import fees. The House had passed the bill without such a provision.
The next step normally would have been routine action by both houses sending the bill to House-Senate conference to settle differences. The administration hoped House conferees would oppose the provision and prevail on Senate conferees to drop it.
But House Democratic leaders expect that when the bill is sent to conference, Republicans will move to instruct House conferees to accept the Senate provision.
Aides to House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O'Neill Jr. said the administration is confident it could defeat such a vote of instruction in the House. But because Senate conferees don't want to meet until next week to resolve the issue, the administration has up to now asked that the House delay sending the bill to conference to avoid a needless fight on import fees just, before the summit.
After a White House meeting yesterday, O'Neill said Carter is "bitterly opposed" to the Senate import fee proscription and characterized it as "more politics than anything else." It was sponsored in the Senate by Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a possible presidential candidate in 1980.
O'Neill said there was no talk at the White House meeting of Carter's announcing before or at the summit meeting, action to limit foreign oil imports. Carter wants very much to take to the summit some proof that the United States is serious about conserving energy to stabilize the dollar and improve trading relations with Europe and Japan.
But 15 months after getting Carter's energy package, Congress hasn't finally passed any of it. There is a faint chance that one part approved by energy conferees - a regulatory measure ordering some industrial conversion from oil to coal - may be passed by the Senate this week. But the conference report on the measure has not yet been filed.
Conferees are stalemated on the major parts of Carter's energy tax program, for which oil import fees or quotas would be an alternative method of trying to reduce consumption by increasing price. The tax conferees will meet tomorrow but are expected to produce nothing more than statements of hope of future action.
On another energy front, the House Commerce Committee went on record 19-9 as opposed to a bill clearing the way for construction of coal slurry pipelines. The bill has been approved by the Interior and Public Works committees and is scheduled for House action the end of this week or early next.
The bill, which would confer power of eminent domain to obtain rights of way, is fiercely opposed by the railroads, which fear loss of business to pipelines that would move pulverized coal mixed with water. The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the railroads and a long working relationship with them. It has no jurisdiction over the pipeline bill and its action has no official standing except as a statement of committee members' views.