The White House yesterday began a concerted effort to rally public support behind President Carter's call for a "windfall profits" tax on the oil industry, which presidential aides confidently predicted will be enacted in some form by Congress.
In a series of meetings and briefings, representatives of state public utilities commissions, independent oil operators and some of the nation's largest corporations were asked to support the tax and other aspects of President Carter's energy proposals, announced in a nationally televised speech Thursday night.
Carter himself briefly attended another meeting at the White House with representatives of the seven major American oil companies, warning them, according to an aide, that he is prepared for a protracted struggle over the tax.
The president proposed the "windfall profits" tax Thursday night in connection with his decision to order the gradual lifting of price controls on domestic oil. Warning that without the new tax decontrol will mean "huge and undeserved" profits for the oil industry, Carter appealed in his speech for the public to bring direct pressure on Congress to enact the proposal.
Carter is likely to repeat that appeal when he speaks tonight at a political dinner in Richmond, next Tuesday when he holds a nationally televised news conference and during other appearances in the coming weeks, according to White House official s.
Although the president's energy proposal ran into immediate criticism on Capitol Hill and widespread skepticism that the administration could win enactment of the "windfall profits" tax, White House officials continued to express optimism about its future.
"Our consultations on the Hill convinced us that, even though there is opposition and it isn't going to be easy, we will have a windfall profits tax,"White House press secretary Jody Powell told reporters.
Part of this optimism stemmed from the fact that the White House appears to be much better prepared now than it was in 1977, when Carter made his original energy proposals, to do battle with the oil industry giants on Capitol Hill.
The Briefing held yesterday were only the beginning of what is planned as a concentrated effort, with the president playing a leading public role, to exert public pressure on Congress to enact the tax.
"We don't intend to repeat our mistakes," said one official in reference to the administration's often haphazard approach to lobbying for the energy plan in 1977.
More important and central to the White House strategy in seeking passage of the tax was the decision to order oil price decontrol immediately, rather than making decontrol contingent on passage of a "windfall profits" tax first.
In effect, White House strategists are gambling that public anger over higher energy-which they know will be directed at the president-can also be channeled into pressure on Congress not to allow the oil industry to keep all of the additional revenues decontrol is expected to generate.
The 1977 energy plan also sought to raise oil prices through an extremely complex set of proposed taxes and rebate mechanisms that were little understood by the public, one presidential aide noted. That left Congress numerous ways to scuttle the proposal without appearing to side with the oil companies, he said.
But the "windfall profits" proposal, the aide continued, provides "a very simple anddirect issue, something the public can easily grasp. On this one, there is not going to be much wiggle room for members of Congress. Sooner or later, it is going to come down to whether you are or are not for the tax."
It remained unclear yesterday what position the oil industry would take on the tax, but one industry official said it is something the oil companies "have to think very carefully about."
"I think the chances for passage of the tax are better than people think," he said. "There is going to be more of a monkey on the back of Congress than local observers expect."