The Senate Energy Committee voted yesterday to strip the president of his unilateral power to impose oil import quotas.
The 10-to-8 vote was the first expression of congressional opposition to President Carter's announced intention to limit costly oil imports to 8.2 million barrels a day this year and to the 1977 average of 8.5 million barrels a day indefinitely thereafter.
The bill, proposed by Senate energy subcommittee Chairman J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), was approved on an extraordinary day in which energy is sues dominated Congress. In other actions:
The Senate Energy Committee separately cleared and sent to the floor, 14 to 2, an omnibus energy bill authorizing $20 billion in government grants and guarantees for synthetic fuels production through the energy security corporation that President Carter has sought.
The bill also would authorize other forms of energy production aid, including a solar energy bank and a gas ohol program. And, as concession to senators from consuming states including Carter's likely presidential nomination rival Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), it authorizes several kinds of aid for conservation as well, including insulation grants to homeowners.
Only parts of this bill have been matched in the House.
The House, meanwhile, reversed an earlier vote and decided, 225 to 189, to preserve existing federal price controls and allocation rules for gasoline. Many members think the controls are cumbersome and interfere with orderly distribution of gasoline without holding down prices much, but others fear that without controls gasoline prices will rise even faster than they have this year. The existing controls will phase out over the next two years along with controls on crude oil prices.
At the same time, a House Appropriations subcommittee, under presure from Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and others, approved, 25 to 16, a bill providing $1.35 billion in heating aid to the poor this year.
Impelled partly by fast-rising heating oil costs, both houses are rushing to pass such aid for the poor before winter sets in. The Senate has already passed an Interior Department bill providing $1.2 billion in quick assistance.
This time, however, the aid idea ran into some resistance.
House Budget Commitee Chairman Robert Giaimo (D-Conn.) warned that the heating aid would become another welfare program and Minority Whip Robert Michel (R-Ill.) objected that it would channel a disproportionate share of funds to warm-wheather states and make funds available to some recipients regardless of their needs.
The bill would add $150 million to $250 million already appropriated to the Community Services Administration in the form of block grants to the states.
It would also provide $400 million to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for direct payments to the elderly and handicapped on welfare. And it would provide $800 million more to HEW for either an optional state block grant program or direct payments to Aid to Families with Dependent Children recipients.
Michel attempted to amend the bill to put the entire $1.6 billion into the CSA and to change the formula to give added weight to the amount of cold weather a state has.
Michel said Illinois has three times the number of cold days Texas has, but would get only 1.8 times more funds.
And Rep. C.w. (Bill) Young (R-Fla.) argued that welfare recipients living in public housing where heating is subsidized or living together would get as much money as an "elderly couple living in a cold ramshackle house down the street."
Rep. Joseph Early (D-Mass.) said the aim was to get the funds out quickly to a group that was already targeted as poor, such as supplemental Security Income and AFDC recipients.
"I don't think we ought to approach this in this haphazard manner," Giaimo said. "We're starting a new welfare program that will make food stamps look like peanuts. It's also not coincidental this is happening prior to the primary season of 1980." Giaimo warned it would "give impetus to those who want to put a flat spending limit on the House."
The House turnaround on gasoline controls came largely because a number of congressmen from Northeastern states were absent when the first vote was taken. That vote was 191 to 188.
The House also voted, 264 to 143, to require the Energy Department to make public information on oil company supplies and refining capacity, information that has been kept secret by DOE to prevent collusion, DOE said.
The votes on Capitol Hill came as five more major oil companies reported soaring profits. They were Sohio, earnings up 191 percent; Mobil, 131 percent; Sun, 65 percent; Cities Service, 64 percent, and Marathon, 58 percent.
Other companies reported large increases earlier this week.
The administration has seized on these as proof that its pending "windfall" tax on oil profits is justified and should be passed quickely.
The actions came on a $6.9 billion DOE authorization bill which the House passed, 263 to 150, and sent to the Senate, which may never take the bill up since an appropriations bill has already passed.
Carter promised import quotas after returning from an energy summit in Tokyo earlier this year. Other countries has complained the United States was taking more than its share of world oil production. He proposed the quotas along with his synfuels program and energy security corporation and another bill pending in Congress to set up an energy mobilization board to cut red tape on large energy projects.
Though the quota idea is dramatic, critics noted it would likely force prices even higher in this country and could create chaos in distribution patterns. It also turned out the quotas might bite sooner than Carter first assumed, since consumption and imports have stayed higher than his energy aides expected. So far, however, imports have stayed below the Carter trigger points.