It now appears that President Carter's mandotary conservation plan to reduce building temperatures will be the only one of the emergency proposals to get through Congress without any major problems. That is because it is virtually unenforceable.
His other proposals, in contrast, are being picked apart-shutting down out-door light will inflict undue harm on the billboard industry, the argument goes, and gas rationing will be particularly unfair to travelling salesmen. Such complaints are probably similar to the feelings that would have been expressed by railroaders, buffalo hunters and buffalo-meat merchants had Theodore Roosevelt expressed an interest in protecting that dwindling resource.
Given the atmosphere, then, the response to the expected presidential announcement on oil pricing is almost predictable, and the stories in the newspapers and on television can almost be forecast. Consider:
President Carter will scold the American People for failing to answer the call to arms of the "moral equivalent of war" and for increasing petroleum consumption. "I am not proud of you," he will say.
He will call for new pricing measures, with another tax or other kicker attached. These, Carter will say, will curtail demand, bring the price of oil to near world levels, help cure long-term inflationary pressures and make the world safe for democracy.
He will ask Congress for help in passing these measures.
Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), the Energy Committee chairman, will say publicly that the plans seem worthwhile and deserve special consideration. (Privately, he and his staff will say nasty things about the Energy Department and the White House for putting the committee through the wringer again so soon after the natural-gas debate of last fall.)
Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) or Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.)- whoever gets interviewed first-will call the plans a "rip-off of the American public" and a "windfall for the oil companies." They will argue that the scheme will fuel inflation, rather than fight it.
A Democratics senator or representative from the Southwest, or Republican from the Southwest, or a Republican from anywhere, will call for "a halt to this phased nonsense" and demand total decontrol right now, not in 1981 when price controls expire.
An unnamed Energy Department official will say the plan will cut consumption millions of barrels per day by raising prices.
A consumer representative will aks how increased prices will cut consumption, noting that the price of gasoline has gone from 30 cents to 80 cents a gallon and demand is stillincreasing.
Alfred Kan, under orders from the White House not to refer to "depression" or "bananas," will not issue a statement, but will be seen eating a fruit salad in a local restaurant.
Major oil companies will issue bland comments, and will try to withhold future earning reports.
Shortly after the presidential plan is announced, states will press their case for individual authoriry to limit gasoline consumption. That will mean, in theory, that a person travelling through three states, with a license plate beginning with a consonant and ending with an odd number, and travelling on a weekend, will be unable to buy gasoline at all.
Someone in Las Vegas or Atlantic City will suggest that, if rationing is adopted, the coupons could be used for chips at the gaming tables to provide a little excitement. The winner gets to by gasoline to go home, and the economy in Nevada and New Jersey will be preserved.