It's trouble as usual as House and Senate managers of the natural gas pricing agreement struggle to get a majority of conferees to sign it and get the compromise before the two bodies for final action.
House-Senate energy conferees fought and fussed for eight months to work out an agreement that would lift federal price controls from newly discovered natural gas by 1985. Liberals call it a sellout to the oil-gas industry. Conservatives say deregulation should come more quickly. A bare majority in the middle of the conference decided it was an acceptable solution to the 24-year fight over gas pricing.
Now that the agreement has been reduced to writing, some conferees on both sides of the Capitol are grumbling that some of the legislative language isn't what they had agreed to.
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), who had a 10-to-7 majority for the agreement in principle a month ago, called a meeting of his 10 yesterday to go over the 170-page bill.
Jackson said afterward that there were some objections but that he was satisfied that can be worked out an that a majority of the Senate conferees will sign it. A majority of House and Senate conferees must sign the final product."There are no insoluble problems," he said.
Jackson had hoped to get the needed signatures by today so the Senate he said it appears doubtful that they could begin debating this week. But conference report can be filed in time to begin debate before next week.
One question raised at the meeting, said Jackson, had to do with how the annual price increase to be allowed before 1985 would be computed. The agreement was that producers should be allowed the previous year's inflation rate plus 3 1/2 percent. The question: to get the new ceiling should the old ceiling first be multiplied by the inflation rate and that then multiplied by 3 1/2 percent, or the other way around? It could make a big difference in dollars paid to producers by 1985.
House conferees approved the conference agreement last spring by a 1-vote margin, 13 to 12. One of the majority, Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D-Wis.), is complaining that the written project appears more costly to consumers than what was previously agreed on, according to Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), who is in charge of the House Bill. Ashley expressed confidence that when the 12 others sign the conference report and Reuss has received a full explanation he will sign the report.