Unlike any neighborhood mechanic anyone ever met, the House Agriculture Committee voted yesterday to pour a multimillion-dollar batch of sugar into America's gasoline tanks.
Rep. Richard Kelly (R-Fla.), knowing sugar and gas do not mix, objected, but to no avail -- the committee attached a fuel-production-incentive amendment to a sugar support bill.
The legislation, designed to guarantee producers a fixed income, could, if approved, cost U.S. concumers more than $200 million extra next year.
The committee slogged through a third day of discussion and amendment of a price support proposal sponsored by Reps. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and Al Ullman (D-Ore.). The Carter administration supports a slightly less generous approach, although critics say that, too, is inflationary.
An hour of slogging was devoted to discussion of an amendment by Rep. Daniel R. Glickman (D-Kan.), who wanted to provide at least $25 million in loan guarantees for production of gasohol-fuel processed from sugar cane, beet and corn-sweetener residue.
Glickman's amendment, which eventually was adopted 26 to 7, was fairly broad, providing no guidelines or collateral requirement for processors who want the loan guarantees to build gasohol plants.
The broadness of the proposal ignited Kelly's fues. "If it's such a good idea," he asked, "why aren't people out there jumping on it?"
Rep. Berkley W. Bedell (D-Iowa) added an amendment, allowing government-owned sugar stocks to be used at cut-rate prices in gashol production. Rep. Margaret M. Heckler (R-Mass.) wanted to include gashol made from forest products in the loan guarantee scheme.
They were about to solve the energy crisis in half a morning, but Foley stopped the train. "We're supposed to be looking at sugar policy here and not at gasohol policy," he said.
"This is a new kind of sweetener to the sugar bill," Heckler' said about her amendment. "It would be a glaring omission to leave it out. From a political point of view, it enhances the attractiveness of the bill."
By then, Kelly was gagging, as it were. "If we really want to help the American people, to protect them from the big bad oil companies, we ought to cover [farm] products under a loan guarantee," he said, proposing to broaden Glickman's amendment.
The committee voted him down, but by then Kelly had made his point. "This is a charade at best," he protested. "We clothe ourselves in the virtue of solving the energy crisis, but you just want to burn up the commodities. You are worried about getting rid of commodities so the prices will stay high...."
By now, he was lecturing across the room at Glickman. "You want to spend $25 million on an unproven technology to start production. You don't want to burn municipal garbage to make gasholo. You want to burn up food. How about letting people eat it? How about letting prices go down?"
Rep. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) objected to Kelly's use of the word "charade." The idea of producing gasohol from sugar is a good one and it needs to be tested, he said.
Rep. Richard Nolan (D-Minn.) said the committee should "take offense" at Kelly's remarks. "It's carrying it a little too far," he said, to suggest the committee wants to put the torch to food.
"I have no objection to standing trial," Kelly said. "If reason and logic are an offense in Congress, then maybe someone should be tried and I may be the guilty party. If I offend you, so be it."
Maybe guilty as charged but his harangue worked, a little at least. Heckler's forest products amendment lost. Kelly's amendment lost. Bedell withdrew his. Glickman got his way.
The Agriculture Committee is scheduled to continue debating the energy crisis... er, the sugar price support bill at another markup session this morning.