Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker (R.Tenn.), the highest ranking elected Republican official in the nation, said today that President Carter deserves strong bipartisan support in his renewed effort to solve the nation's energy problems.
"This is not a time to nickel-and-dime these proposals to death," Baker said of the energy program, outlined by Carter at the beginning of the week.
"It is time, instead, to enact a bipartisan national energy program which the country can support and which will get the job done. It is time we exercised the responsible political leadership the American people have a right to expect of us," he told the 44th annual convention of the National Association of Counties (NACO).
Baker's speech came one day after Carter went before an estimated 4,000 NACO convention delegates to ask their support for this energy proposals. Today, the convention approved an emergency resolution backing the president's appeal.
The resolution supports Carter's call for intensifying conservation efforts, increasing production of synthetic fuels, developing mass transportation programs and imposing foreigh oil import quota. It urges all AMericans "to join together and work toward achieving energy security and economic independence."
The convention also voted unanimously to back Carter's push for decontrol of domestic oil prices and imposition of a permanent windfall profits tax on increased oil company earnings generated by decontrol.
The oil price and tax vote marked the second time in two months that a major local government lobbying group sided with Carter on the decontrol and windfall profits tax issue. Similar resolutions were approved in Pittsburgh last month at the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors.
Baker, speaking to reporters after his speech, said he believes Carter probably will win the oil price decontrol/tax battle in Congress as well.
"i think he'll get decontrol. I also think he'll get a 'windfall profits' tax. I think he could have gotten that long ago," Baker said.
He said Carter's failure to gain congressional support for his oil tax proposals was largely the result of the president's unwillingness to work with the Republican leadership and to dedicate a substantial portion of windfall profits tax revenue to energy research and development.
Baker said today that he was publicly extending an invitation to Carter to form "a bipartisan coalition" to work on energy solutions.
"I am willing to work with the president if he would let me," said Baker, while pointing out that the president invited little or no Republican participation in his recent Camp David "domestic summit.
As to the windfall profits tax and how it might be distributed, Baker said he is flexible.
"That's one matter on which I will negotiate. I don't have a closed mind on it. I'm willing to listen to the administration," Baker said.
However, Baker said he is disturbed about what he called the president's lack of emphasis on oil production and lack of attention to involving the private sector in solving the nation's energy problems. But he said he is willing to be patient in resolving those potential differences.
"No one is now seeking perfection," Barker said. "Everyone recognizes that we have a real problem on our hands. I think it's time to give the president his turn at the bat,"