The House voted 263 to 159 yesterday to give the president standby gasoline rationing authority and the power to set in motion state and federal plans to conserve energy.
But it did do only after days of bitter partisan wrangling and adoption of several amendments that made it doubtful that the bill will clear Congress before the start of the August recess tomorrow.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), manager of the bill, said it would be "very difficult" to get the legislation to the president before the congressional recess.
Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the bill quickly and send it to the Senate for quick action there so it could be on its way to the White House by the time they went home.
But House Republicans were united in their opposition to the bill and stuck doggedly to the position that energy policy should be designed to increase supply, not merely to redistribute a shortage and constrict the economy, as Minority Leader John Rhodes (Ariz) claimed the bill would do.
Republicans offered amendment after amendment, and several that were adopted would make quick passage by the Senate troublesome.
Among the amendments adopted was one that would require the president to set aside 1 percent of the nation's diesel fuel for farmers, an amendment Rep. Toby Moffett (D- Conn) said would set off a "civil war" among truckers, farmers and users of home heating oil. The amendment was adopted 229 to 191.
Moffett, from the Northeast where home heating oil is a problem, then countered with his own amendment providing for a 1 percent setaside for home heating oil users. That amendment passed 233 to 188.
Other amendments exempted farmers from state conservation plans and exempted hospitals, health facilities and homes for the elderly from requirements that temperatures be set at 78 degrees in summer and 65 degrees in winter.
By a vote of 209 to 203, the House rejected a proposal to exempt energy producers, suppliers and transporters from state conservation plans.
Angry and red-faced, majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex) took to the floor to blast the Republicans for trying to "emasculate" and "weaken" the bill. "The public doesn't appreciate obstructionism. The public is going to see through efforts to emasculate the bill for no better reason than to embarrass the president," Wright said. "If we blow it, my friends, . . . because we did not have the gumption . . . then we do not deserve continued support."
Wright said the country was looking to the House and the House needs "to enact this bill as something that may hurt but would be orderly and lead us to the goal we want to achieve and that is energy proficiency for the U.S."
Rhodes remainded Wright that the Republicans made up only one-third of the House and that it took Democratic votes to adopt the weakening amendment. "Let's don't tell people that the Republican side . . . . is dragging its feet, is keeping it down. It isn't fair. It isn't honest," Rhodes said.
Other Republicans argued that government regulation had contributed to the shortage, and giving government more power to regulate wasn't the answer.
The House then went on to delete from the bill a suggested conservation method of requiring drivers to keep their car home one day a week, the day to be designated by a sticker.
Under the bill, the president may not impose gasoline rationing unless there is a 20 percent shortage of oil lasting 30 days.
Sixty days before he wants to implment rationing he must send his proposal to Congress, and Congress has 15 days during which either house may veto it.
Ninety days after enactment of the bill, the president must report to Congress on the details of his plan and continue to keep Congress advised on progress in drawing up a rationing plan.
The house began work on the bill last week, but Democratic leaders pulled it off the floor after the House passed an amendment allowing Congress a one-house veto of the plan before there was an emergency. The House's inability to agree on details of a gasoline rationing plan is what killed a standby rationing bill in May and House leaders contend no bill could be approved absent an emergency.
On Tuesday the action was reversed, so the only one-house veto opportunity now comes at the time of the emergency, when the plan would be implemented.
At the same time, the House weakened seriously the requirement that building thermostats be set at 78 degrees in the summer and 65 degrees in the winter by allowing a building to be exempt from the requirement if it could find an alternate means of saving energy.
Under the conservation portion of the bill, the president would set targets for the states to conserve energy, and states would draw up conservation plans.
The president would drew up a federal plan to be used only if the state plan failed to meet the target, but the federal plan could be imposed only if a 10 percent nationwide oil shortage arose.