An embarrassing defeat for the Carter administration was reversed by the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday as it voted 15 to 8 to restore the $20 billion in authority for synthetic fuel development it had cut out the day before.
President Carter had requested the $20 billion in funding for the synthetic fuels program, one of the centerpieces of his energy program.
But when the committee took up the request Tuesday, a jurisdictional dispute ensued and the panel voted 12 to 11 to knock out the money.
Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), whose Energy Committee is marking up a synthetic fuels bill, provided the key vote against the funding.
Johnston said yesterday he voted against the money because it would have been subject to annual appropriations, which he said would "dribble out" the money project by project. He also voted against it because the money was put in the Defense Productions Act, which is under the Banking Committee. That panel has brought out a competing and much more limited synthetic fuels bill. Johnston thought the Appropriations Committee was tilting toward the Banking Committee's bill.
The Tuesday defeat sent White House lobbyists scurrying to turn it around, and chief White House lobbyist Frank Moore showed up at the meeting yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Bryd (D-W.Va.) proposed yesterday that the money be funded through a "neutral" bill, the Federal Non-Nuclear Research and Development Act, and assured Johnston it was not the intent of the Appropriations Committee to "dribble out" the money.
But at the same time, he assured others who voted against the funding, the $20 billion was only "symbolic" -- it could not be spent without an annual authorization and appropriation.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) argued that the money was essential even if only symoblic. "We're not going to get things going unless we demonstrate the money is definitely going to be there."
"Twenty billion dollars is a lot of symbolism," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.
Sen. Walter Huddleston (D-Ky.) arrgued that "some of the impetus [of long gas lines] has disappeared." But he predicted that next year they would be back and then Congress wouldn't quibble for a minute about including the money.
"Except it wouldn't do one thing about the gas lines," Leahy shot back.
Sen. Harrison Schmitt (R-N.M.) said, "The chances of more than six plants in 10 years is very small." Schmitt argued only increased oil and gas production would really help abate the crisis.
Several senators argued that they should wait until the Senate had passed a synthetic fuel bill of some king before funding the money. "What kind of of legislating is this where we just put out on the table $20 billion?" asked Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.).
But Bryd argued, "If we reject this we're put in the position of turning down synthetic fuels." Byrd added it would save time. "The money will be there. We won't have to wait" for another appropriations bill to pass.
Johnston's subcommittee of the Energy Committee is marking up a measure that would set up an Energy Security Corp. to give price guarantees, loan guarantees, enter into cooperatives and finally as a last resort, build a government-operated synthetic fuel plant.
Sen. William Proxmire's Banking Committee brought out a more limited bill limiting the funding and size of synthetic fuel plants and emphasizing conservation instead. Both bills are expected to be brought to the Senate floor at the same time.
A hard fight is expected as the Senate chooses between the two approaches.