President Carter's standby gasoline rationing plan died on the House floor yesterday, 246 to 159, after a long afternoon of fiercely partisan wrangling.
Administration promises to agriculture, energy and other interests-which were enough to push the plan through the Senate on Wednesday-did not work in the House, where members have smaller districts and more parochial interests.
Members from the country feared that city folk who could park their cars and use mass transit would sell rationing coupons, at scalping rates, to those who must drive. By changing the formula for allocating coupons from the number of registered cars to a state's historical use of gas, the administration lost usually loyal Democrats in states such as California and Pennsylvania that became "losers."
The president can send up another plan to get rationing machinery in place for an emergency, but managers of the bill said it would take six months or more to devise one. Congress could legislate a plan, but the experience with this one raises doubt whether it could agree on a plan.
The White House had no reaction last night to the House vote. A spokesman said President Carter would comment today on the rejection of his standby rationing plan.
Just before the vote, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) tried to save the plan with a rousing speech putting the importance of the gas issue on a par with the vote on a military draft before the United States entered World War II.
O'Neill said he was in the House gallery that day as a young state legislator and listened as "weakling after weakling" got up to oppose the bill. "I often think of that debate," he said. "Those who voted against the draft walked the streets with their heads down" after Pearl Harbor, "asking, 'Why didn't I have the courage to stand up'" for America. He asked the House to stand up for America and empower the president to get ready for a gas shortage emergency if one comes.
O'neill blamed parochial interests for torpedoing the proposal, saying legislators looked only at how the plan would affect their own areas.
"Today I'm shedding a tear for America. This is the only plan you have," he said.
Carter had submitted the plan under a 1975 law requiring him to do so and giving Congress 60 days in which to act on it. That time runs out today.
The Senate had approved the plan 58 to 39.
The proposal would have permitted the president to write a detailed rationing program within the broad framework of the plan. But he could not have put it into effect without submitting it to Congress, where a majority in either house could have killed it.
Only seven Republicans joined 152 Democrats in voting for the plan, while 140 Republicans and 106 Democrats voted against.
After rejecting the gas rationing plan, the House approved by voice vote another Carter energy conservation plan, empowering him to order thermostats in nonresidential buildings held down to 65 degrees in winter and not below 80 degrees in summer.
This was the only one of four Carter energy contingency plans to win congressional approval. Also killed were plans empowering him to order weekend closing of gas stations and to order outdoor advertising lights turned off.
Supporters of the standby plan contended that the president should be given authority now in time to get ready to prevent chaos should a serious gas shortage occur. Opponents called it a bad plan, changed at the last minute to get Senate votes, and said it should be rejected to avoid chaos.
Republicans almost solidly opposed the plan and provoked a blast from House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) that for the first time in his 30 years in Congress he felt that the Republican Party in the House "has become completely negative, with a few honorable exceptions."
One of those exceptions was Rep. John B. Anderson (III)., third-ranking House Republican leader but a lonely moderate on some issues, who tried to reassure members that rationing would be used only in the event of a major nationwide shortage and not because of regional problems such as California's current situation. He asked unanimous consent to take up a resolution, which the Senate passed Wednesday, stating the sense of the House that rationing should take effect only if gas shortages exceeded 20 percent of normal supply nationwide for 30 days.
Rep. Robert Bau man (R-Md.) suggested Anderson was serving as an instrument of the Democratic leadership in trying to round up votes for the standby rationing plan.
Republicans finally objected and, since unanimous consent was needed to take up the resolution the same day it was introduced, that ended it. In the Senate, the resolution was needed to take up the resolution the same day it was introduced, that ended it. In the Senate, the resolution was sponsored by Republican Whip Ted Stevens (Alaska) and was adopted without objection.
House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) denounced the idea of a rationing plan as "irrational." Once a standby plan is authorized the administration will find a way to put it into effect, he said.
On the other hand, Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) likened the situation to a vote on military preparedness just before Pearl Harbor. Any rationing plan would be preferable to "the law of the jungle we have seen in California" with fights in gas station lines, he said.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), floor manager of the proposal, argued that if Congress didn't give satandby rationing authority, "you're liable to see the people of this nation thrown into a rationing plan based on price."
Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), who is fighting the president on oil price decontrol but is with him on rationing, told the House: "The American people have a right to be outraged if we don't come together and give the president authority to get ready."
In order to ge a House vote on the plan before this weekend, when it would have died because of House inaction, the lawmakers first had to approve a resolution waiving House rules on time requirements. They did, 227 to 190, with only seven Republican yes votes.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger told the House Ways and Means Committee there is no evidence that the oil industry is holding gas off the market to await higher prices.
Schlesinger also said the supply of crude oil is modest at best, gas stocks are falling and supplies of heating oil and other distilled products are at a precarious level.
Schlesinger's appearance was in support of Carter's proposal to tax some of the profits that will flow to the oil industry when the government begins phasing out oil price controls next month. CAPTION: Picture 1, Speaker O'Neill and Rep. John Dingell, supporters of Carter's standby rationing plan, confer befor House debate. By James K.W. Atherton-The Washington Post; Picture 2, REP. JOHN B . . . GOP exception who favored plan