Leading House opponents of the natural gas compromise now expect the Senate to approve it and say they face an uphill fight to stop it in the House.
Tuesday's Senate vote defeating an attempt to scuttle the plan to end price controls on new gas by 1985 added to the momentum that has been building for the bill since President Carter began hard lobbying for it the first of this month. Until then it appeared on the brink of death several times.
Senate opponents may try again to send the bill back to a House-Senate conference with instructions to Senate conferees to change it. But no new plan surfaced yesterday. A Senate vote on the bill itself is scheduled for next Wednesday when there has been talk of voting even sooner, but that is considered unlikely because senators have arranged their schedules for a Wednesday vote.
A coalition of left and right representing consumers and producers has formed in the House as in the Senate to fight the bill. The former says it means only higher prices. The latter say it delays deregulation too long.
Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), a leader of consumer forces, said yesterday the coalition will try to dispel the "mythology" that the bill would bolster the dollar abroad and produce more gas. They have begun sending out a series of "Dear Colleague" letters.
The Houses voted last year for continued price controls, rejecting a proposal to deregulate new gas this year by 28 votes.
But Moffett said he was "not extremely optimistic" of success. He fears opponents won't be able to overcome the parliamentary hurdle they expect to face when the bill is taken [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Unlike the Senate, which broke Carter's energy package into five bills, the House kept it together as one bill on the theory that would be easier to pass. House leaders plan to repackage natural gas and other nontax parts of the energy proposals into one bill for a final vote, assuming they are first approved by the Senate.
If the bills were taken up separately House members could vote against ga, then vote for three relatively non-controversial and less important energy bills and say they had voted for most of the energy bills. But if they are forced to vote for or against the only energy bill of the year, the pressure to vote yes would be greater.
Democratic leaders would have to go to the House Rules Committee for a resolution making it in order to pull the four bills back into one package. If the House has a majority to defeat the gas compromise they could change that rule to permit a separate vote on gas.
Rep. Joe D. Waggonner (D-La.), a producer spokesman opposed to the bill, said he expects the Senate to approve the gas proposal and believes opponents would face an "uphill fight" in the House. It would be made more difficult by repackaging the whole energy program into a single bill and making members cast a single energy vote, he said.
Waggonner said Senate opponents' best shot at killing the bill would have been a filibuster. He doubted that supporters could have mustered the 60 votes required to stop one. Managers of the bill also feared a filibuster and for that reason agreed to stretching out debate to next Wednesday and giving opponents more opportunity to try to send the bill back to conference.
But Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), leader of consumer forces in the Senate, said opponents agreed to a time limit because they feared an adverse public reaction to killing President Carter's most important legislation by talkathon.
Rep. Clarence Brown (R-Ohio), leader of House Republican opponents, said he wasn't ready to admit that the gas bill can pass either Senate or House. But he said that Senate approval could influence some House votes. He also agreed that House opponents would face a much more difficult task if members are limited to a single vote on energy.