Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) charged yesterday that the Carter administration's consideration of a plan to help the world's oil-exporting countries in a price-fixing suit shows how subservient to the cartel the United States has become.
"What you see here is the accommodation of the American government to a near criminal conspiracy," he said. "And no one in the administration has fought it."
The Washington Post reported yesterday that top administration officials met Tuesday to consider whether to have the Justice Department intervene in the case. Treasury Departmnet officials fear the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries might withdraw billions of dollars of funds it holds in the United States to escape any judgment in the suit.
Moynihan said this concern shows "how successful the cartel has been. That's how you become captive, if you don't resist from the beginning."
The International Association of Machinists was the first organization to sue OPEC for alleged antitrust violations, charging that Americans have paid billions of dollars extra because the 13 member nations fixed the world price of oil.
Administration officials yesterday either refused to comment or downplayed the possibility of government action in the case.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said suggestions in The Post story of government intervention were inaccurate. But he went on to say "they are at best premature at this point."
Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal declined to discuss the subject at a press conference. He said this was because the matter was in litigation - though the U.S. government is not party to the suit.
Moynihan, who said he has made something of a personal crusade looking for ways to break up OPEC, also said the potential administration action would bring the current round of negotiations on a multinational trade treaty "crashing down."
The big question there is whether there's a will in the government to press American interests" in projected new international tribunals to monitor government subsidies and "dumping" of low-priced products, he said.
"Now other nations will wonder if we have any backbone about enforcing our rights," Moynihan said.
The senator said he has been unable to get anyone in the government to discuss ways to take action to blunt the power of OPEC. He also cited a private, 1975 study of the antitrust implications of OPEC pricing policy that was sent to the Justice Department, but never acted upon.
"Now it's no longer a mystery why nothing was ever done," he said. "Everything we've ever stood for in free trade has been obominated - that's a verb - by this cartel and we won't say 'Boo!"
Thomas Kauper, who was head of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division in 1975, said yesterday that he reviewed but isn't sure what happened to the private legal study of OPEC pricing. A department spokesman said it was considered, but was apparently too difficult to pursue.
A hearing in the machinists' union suit is set for Monday in Los Angeles. On official involved in the administration's deliberations on how to react to the suit said yesterday that the government didn't feel bound to reach a decision before that court date.