Congress began leaving town for its August recess yesterday, still struggling with a standby gasoline rationing bill and other pieces of President Carter's energy package.
The rationing bill, which leaders had hoped to have on the president's desk by this weekend, was so battered by House amendments that the White House called it "unacceptable" and the Senate balked at any quick action.
Senate Majority Leader Robert c. Byrd (D-W VA.) called the House bill, which now includes at least 15 weakening amendments, "ludicrous," while Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-ARk.) labeled it "outrageous."
At the same time, the Senate was holding up action on House-passed energy measures, namely a synthetic fuels bill and "windfall profits" tax. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) has demanded a 30-day delay on synthetic fuels while he takes a look at the budgetary impact of the program on which President Carter would like to spend $88 billion. The Senate Energy Committee already had cut that figure back to $20 billion as a start.
Senate Finace committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) already had told the president he would not have the "windfall profits" tax until October, although Carter had wanted it sooner.
Proposals for an Energy Mobilization board to cut red tape on energy projects were struggling through House and Senate committees, while proposals for an energy trust fund and an Energy Security Corporation have not gotten very for in either body.
Congress took these actions as it prepared for the recess:
The House sent to the White House for signing a bill raising this year's spending ceiling for the food stamp program by $620 million so benefits need not be cut during the last two months of th fiscal year.
House and Senate approved and sent to the president a bill setting State Department spending ceilings for the next two years providing a formula for lifting sanctions against Zimbabwe-Rhodesiia. If the president does not act to end sanctions by Nov. 15, Congres may do so by majority vote not subject to veto.
The Senate confirmed Paul A. Volcker to be a member and chairman of the Federal Reserve Board by a vote of 98 to 0. It confirmed the present Fed chairman, G. William Miller, to be secretary of the treasury in place of the ousted W. Michael Blumenthal by a vote of 97 to 1, with William Proxmire (D-Wis.) voting no. It also approved Robert N. Clement to be a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors.
The House passed a social services and child adoption subsidies bill raising spending to $3.1 billion next year, but only after striking a blow for fiscal coservatism. An attempt to authorize $266 million a year for child welfare services on a permanent entitlement basis that would bypass annual appropriations control was rejected, 199 to 204.
The House Ways and Means Committee agreed to procedures that assure a vote in September on the administration's bobtailed $5.5 billion welfare revision bill. Republicans will try to convert welfare into a program of bloc grants to the states to be spent as they wish.
The House approved a House-Senate conference agreement on a total of $8.3 billion for next year's budgets for the departments of State, Justice and Commerce and the federal judiciary. Stricken from the bill was a House provision forbidding the Justice Department from getting involved in court suits or other action to force busing of students to achieve racial integration.
The House also approved a conference report authorizing $1.98 billion in bilateral economic foreign aid next year. Senate action is required on both conference reports.
The House approved by voice vote a $72.5 billion appropriation for the departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare, but insisted on further negotiations on use of federal funds for abortion. The Senate had written in language permitting federal funds for abortion only where the life of the mother would be endangered, or in cases of rape or incest that were promptly reported and would cause serious health problems. This is present law. But the House, which would permit federally funded abortions only in cases where the mother's life would be endangered by pregnancy, rejected the Senate proposal by voice vote. The Senate must either accept the House provision or go back to conference to negotiate.
House Democratic leaders tried to blame the Republicans for obstructing the rationing bill and emasculating Carter, but they could not deny that Democratic votes were necessary to provide the majority to pass the weakening amendments.
Democratic Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.) said yesterday the leadership is considering new procedural restrictions to stop Republicans from weakening bills by amendments and to innsulate sympathetic Democrats from such proposals.
The August recess, which ends the Wednesday after Labor Day, may raise new questions about the wisdom of speeding ahead with a synthetic fuels program and about the need for strong conservation programs, particularly if there is no recurrence of gasoline lines during the vacation month.
The House, during its debate on the rationing bill, weakened the only conservation measure passed by Congress buildings set their thermostats at 77 degrees in summer and 65 degrees in winter. The House voted to allow business to ignore the requirement if they could find "comparabble energy savings" by other means, a provision Democratic leaders say is unenforceable and gutting.
That was one of the providions that made the bill "unacceptable" to Carter, and caused him to threaten implicitly a veto if it stays in that form.
Carter also does not like the "triggers" that require a 20 percent shortage of oil before he could impose rationing and a 10 percent shortages before he could put in effect state and federal conservation plans. The House, however, made clear in its voted that it would accept nothing less than the 20 percent requirement.
Carter also objected to the authority for a veto of conservation plans by either Body that the House included in the bill.
Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), an Energy subcommittee chairman promised that the staff, at least would work over the August recess to work out differences between the Senate -- which passed the president's program -- and the House on rationing.
But Brademas said he would advise Democrats to go home and call the passage of the bill "a victory" in any case, since at least the House did pass a bill, rather than ejecting rationing as it did in May.