The House Commerce Committee yesterday rejected President Carter's personal plea for support of his standby gasoline rationing plan, but then voted to let the full House decide the plan's fate.
The rebuff to Carter came a day after the President, in a nationally televised press conference, had appealed to the committee to reverse a vote of last week and approve the rationing plan.
But on a 21-to-21 tie, the committee refused to endorse the plan. It then voted 21 to 20 to report the measure to the House without a recommendation.Floor action is likely early next week.
The action came as, separately, House Speaker Thomas P. O'neill Jr. (D-Mass.) predicted that Congress would stiffen Carter's proposed "windfall profits" tax on the oil industry while additional opposition arose to Carter's plan to decontrol oil prices.
It appeared briefly at the House Commerce Committee meeting that administration lobbying would turn around last week's 22-to-20 vote rejecting the standby gas rationing plan. The committee voted 22 to 20 to reconsider that vote, with Reps. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), switching to support the president.
But Waxman then switched back and again voted against a motion to report the plan favorably to the House. He had agreed to give the president a vote on the procedural motion but not on the merits of the plan. It lost, 21 to 21.
Waxman told the committee he considered the plan unfair to the poor and those in areas where they must drive long distances to work. But he said he considered the issue so important it should be settled by a vote of the full House. So he supported a motion to report the plan without recommendation and that was approved 21 to 20.
The issue could have been put to a House vote whatever the committee action because the law directing the president to send Congress a standby gas rationing plan prescribes procedures to prevent it being bottled up in committee. The committee vote permits it to file a report explaining the issue. Managers of the plan hoped very much they could go to the floor with a backing of a committee majority.
O'neill said the House will vote on the plan next Tuesday. He said he hoped it would be approved, but added that "some work has got to be done" to line up needed votes.
Carter's strong appeal for committee support at his Monday news conference apparently did not change a single committee vote. Wirth said he was turned around by the administration's earlier promise, if rationing is put into effect, to provide extra gas for large rural states where people must drive long distances to work.
In discussing the "windfall profits" tax, O'neill said he had told Carter yesterday that Congress would approve "a stronger bill." Carter said Monday he would accept efforts to make the tax stronger.
Alluding to the dispute between Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-mass.) over Kennedy's charges that Carter had caved in to the oil lobby, O'neill said, "If you ask me, do I think he was kowtowing to big oil, the answer is no. I feel that in his mind he was trying to read the mood of the Congress when he drafted that legislation. But now Congress is feeling the real pulse of the American people, who feel they've been ripped off and want a stronger tax."
Rep. Barber Conable (R-N.Y.), ranking minority member on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he fully expects Congress to pass Carter's proposed "windfall profits" tax, but with a provision allowing some tax forgiveness if the money is reinvested in oil and gas exploration and production.
Conable said he would "try to build a base of support in committee" for the so-called plowback provision, but that it would not be approved in the House version and that the Senate would add it later.
Opposition to Carter's decontrol plan, which would generate the windfall profits for the industry, came in two forms yesterday Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn) asked the House Commerce Committee to amend the Department of Energy's authorization bill for next year to block decontrol for one year.
Meanwhile, the Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition, headed by William W. Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists, announced a drive to roll back energy prices and boost oil company taxes.
"president Carter knuckled under to the oil companies," Winpisinger said, "and he is now intentionally misleading the American people on the effectiveness of his windfall profits tax."
He and other labor and consumer leaders have targeted Mobil Oil Corp's annual meeting scheduled for Thursday in Kansas City, for demonstrations.