A single objection has blocked efforts to get a Senate vote next Tuesday on the closely fought multibillion-dollar natural gas pricing issue.
After a day of meetings of party leaders, supporters and opponents of the plan to end price controls on new gas by 1985 thought they had an agreement to dispose of the issue Congress has struggled with for 17 months.
The plan was to vote Tuesday at 2:15 p.m., on a motion by opponents to send the bill back to a House-Senate conference with instructions that Senate conferees fight to cut out the pricing provisions, which are the heart of the bill. If that motion failed, as now appears likely, the conference report would be put to an up-or-down vote three hours later.That was designed to avoid the possibility fo a filibuster by opponents, should they lose on the motion to recommit.
But Sen. Dewey F. Bartlett (R-Okla.), who has been the staunchest Senate supporter of total deregulation, immediately objected. He said he wanted a chance to offer an amended recommittal motion if the first one failed.
Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va) said he would try again, overnight, to reach agreement on a time to vote. If no agreement is reached soon, Byrd presumably would file a cloture motion to limit debate to try to bring the issue to a vote.
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), leader of the Senate conferees during eight months of bargaining with the House, told the Senate that recommital would kill the gas bill. House leaders have said they won't negotiate further, he said. But Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.), an opponent, who favors continued price controls, predicted that the House would go back to the bargaining table in a minute because the administration wants a bill entitled energy no matter what it contains.
President Carter is making an allout fight for the gas bill, because it is the only major part of his highly touted energy bill that has a chance of passing this year. Vice President Mondale has been at the Capitol all week talking with his former colleagues, trying to line up voters for the bill. He could be seen in the chamber going over a check list with Jackson.
The president packed up more support in the close fight yesterday, when Iowa's two liberal Democratic senators, John C. Culver and Dick Clark, announced their support for the phased deregulation compromise.
Both expressed reservations. But Culver said incremental pricing provisions would cushion the price impact on residential consumers, and extension of price controls during the next seven years to the interstate market would assure more gas for the interstate market, where consuming states have suffered shortages.
Clark said he would support the gas bill as showing that this country is willing to take the first effective steps toward development of a national energy policy.
Neither side appears to have more than 50 votes, but supporters ar slightly ahead among senators whose positions are known.