Both the Senate and House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill made clear yesterday they want to provide money swiftly to help the poor buy heating oil this winter.
The Senate confirmed, 85 to 11, a voice vote it took Tuesday to appropriate $1.2 billion for the poor as part of a $27 billion Interior Department money bill.
And O'Neill made what he noted was his "first appearance before a committee since becoming speaker" to endorse a $1.35 billion aid bill being drafted by the Labor-HEW Appropriations subcommittee.
The administration does not want a separate aid bill, but would like money for the poor to come out of the "windfall profits" tax it want on oil. Administration officials feel enactment of a separate bill would take pressure off the Senate to produce the tax.
But O'Neill said yesterday, "I'm concerned with the windfall profits tax, but the needs of the American People come first. We should not cause suffering because of the dilatoriness of the House and Senate."
O'Neill said he was testifying as the leader of the House "fervently believing that the Congress has a national responsibility to ensure that every American who lives in a cold region can heat his home."
O'Neill was challenged by Minority Whip Robert Michel (R-Ill.) as to how the program might work.
Michel said if the funds were distributed to recipients of Aid to Families with Department Children and Supplemental Security Income, as is planned, older people on Social Security might be left out.
He also said giving blanket aid to those recipients might mean that those living in Hawaii and Florida would benefit equally with those living in the cold Northeast.
O'Neill told the committee to go ahead and work out guidelines, even though the Appropriations Committee is not supposed to write policy. O'Neill said he would intervene personally with the Rules Committee on Appropriations' behalf if it were challenged for writing policy legislation.