Rep. Ted Weiss (D.N.Y.) represents the west side of Manhattan. He voted against President Carter's standby gas rationing plan in the House Thursday because, he said, there was no guarantee that New York City taxi drivers would get additional coupons and becuase it would hurt the poor. "People who could afford to buy coupons on the white market would have all the gas they wanted," he said.
Rep. Jerome A. Ambro (D.N.Y.) represents part of Long Island. He said he voted against the plan because "my suburbanite who doesn't have mass transit would have to jump on the Long Island Rail Road and hang around in some bar in Queens until some city slicker who doesn't need a car says, 'Who wants to buy my coupons?" It follows as night the day. There'd be scalping and price-gouging like you have never seen."
In the anatomy of the defeat the House handed President Carter Thursday night, whed it voted 246 to 159 to kill his standby rationing plan, several factors stand out.
Parochialism played a big role. Members of the House looked at the rationing plan in light of how it would affect their districts.
As the administration made adjustments in the plan to pick up rural state votes in the Senate, it lost big state delegations in the House, such as California and Pennsylvania.
Senate Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) came over to warn House members that between the original proposal and the one that passed the Senate california lost 362 million gallons of gasoline a year. That was enough to make the California delegation vote against the plan, 29 to 9.
Administration bungling also played a part. In an effort to pick up votes, the plan was changed by the administration several times during the week. The last change came just hours before the Senate voted Wednesday, when the plan was switched from distributing half the gas supply to the states on the basis of historic use to allotting gas solely on a historic use basis.
House members were trying a frantically to get copies of lists showing how the latest plans affected their states. At least three different lists were distributed, some with different figures. States that gained on one list lost an another.
Members were confused and confounded about what they were voting on, and White House lobbying became intense only at the last minute, when domestic adviser Stuart Eizenstat was sent to the Hill to talk to Californians and New Yorkers and an all-out lobby effort was put into effect.
Rep. David A. Stockman (R-Mich.), a leader of the Republican opposition, said, "They made so many adjustments, there was a breakdown in credibility."
Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), a loyalist with a 95 percent support record for the administration, voted against theplan. "It was so badly handled from the outset," he said. "It was a standby plan the administration wouldn't stand by."
Fear that endorsing the plan was tantamount to voting for rationing also play a part. Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) told the House, "I do not remember a standby plan that was not implemented eventually."
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Commerce subcommittee that handled the plan, said it went down because of "rather heavy sentiment against rationing at all."
Partisanship also played a role. Only seven of the House's 159 Republicans voted for the plan. "Republicans can choose to be blindly partisan, and when you marry that with regionalism, it becomes very tough," Majority Whip John Brademas (d-Ind.) said.
Rep. David F. Emery (R-Maine), chairman of a Republican task force on energy, said Republicans rejected the plan because it was a bureaucratic nightmare.
The plans advocated by various members tend to reflect the members' districts, circumstances and politics. And some think that's the major problem. They think the "me generation" mood has reached the House, and that getting it to put aside parochialism and consider the national good is nigh on impossible these days.
"This is the most cowardly and gutless Congress I've ever seen," said Rules Committee Chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.), who's seen 16 Congresses.
He said he is very worried. "The worst thing the president can do is run against the Congress, although he has every reason to. What I hope is the House will try to produce a rationing bill and the president and his people will get to work. I think with a great effort we can do it."