While admitting "there is a tremendous amount of speculation about a get-touch attitude in the White House." Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) said yesterday that he doesn't believe President Carter is trying to provoke a confrontation with Congress.
President Carter "can't run against Congress again" in 1980, as he did in 1976. Byrd told reporters at his weekly press briefing. "The American people expect a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to cooperate, or they will find an alternative," he said.
Carter's veto Thursday of a $36 billion defense weapons bill was only his fifth veto in 19 months in office, Byrd noted.
"I don't read anything (about a get-tough attitude) in this veto," Bryd said, adding that presidents Kennedy and Johnson both issued 11 vetoes during their first 20 months in office, while Gerald Ford had 46 vetoes in 20 months.
Byrd had harsh words, however, for Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland's statement earlier last week that the administration would "discipline" Democratic congressmen who took "cheap shots" at the president.
Bergland's statement was "disappointing, unwise, crude, clumsy and counterproductive," Byrd said.
Talk of confrontation between the White House and Congress "has been over-dramatized," Byrd continued. "I think those on either end of the avenue who stick their heads in the ground and fail to see the record of cooperation and accomplishment are doing themselves a disservice."
Byrd also said he does not plan to bring the natural gas compromise plan to the Senate floor until after the Labor Day recess ends on Sept. 6. But he emphasized that a national energy plan remained "the number one priority" for Congress.
Byrd refused to predict victory for the natural gas compromise, but he did say that he felt a filibuster could be overcome.
Asked if he had enough votes to win Senate approval, Byrd said, "I think the circumstances that we are confronted with necessitate adoption of the conference report."
Byrd said "wisdom would dictate passage" because an energy bill would help control mounting problems with foreign oil imports, the trade deficit, inflation and the slipping strength of the dollar.
The tentative Oct. 7 adjournment date for the Senate "is out, o-u-t, out," Byrd said, but he hopes to adjourn by mid-October if debate on the energy plan and a tax cut be completed.
Byrd criticized the House vote this week deleting $54.8 million intended to complete a new Senate office building.