At a time when American business is howling at Congress to call off the regulators, a contrary wind is blowin toward Capital Hill from the trucking industry.
Truckers and Teamsters, the people who won and drive the behemoths of the road, are pulling out all stops in an effort to slow the movement toward deregulation of their industry.
Complex federal rules now limit competition and guarantee income and routes to truckers, which President Carter says costs consumers $5 billion a year.
The industry thinks deregulation, ending these protective controls, would reduce rates and profits. The issue is being debated intensely in Congress, where truckers and Teamsters exert considerable influence.
Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, are pushing a deregulation proposal that has sent shock waves through the industry.
While Congress grapples with that and other deregulation bills, the Interstate Commerce Commission in recent months has provoked other tremors: legislators and truckers fear the ICC is moving on its own to bring about deregulation.
And like other groups that have had little luck with either the regulators or the White House, the trucking industry is turning increasingly to Congress for help and sympathy.
Major responses to those pleas came last week, first in a warning to the ICC from Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.) and then in an unusual action by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Urged on by Cannon and the Teamsters, the committee directed the ICC not to implement any new trucking regulations easing entry into the market until Congress has an opportunity to deal with the deregulation legislation.
That directive actually was a softening of language adopted a few days earlier by the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, which had ordered ICC not to initiate any new trucking regulations.
Congressional observers equated that approach to a controversial attempt in the House last month to prohibit the Federal Trade Commission from continuing a number of regulatory actions. The move, orchestrated by industry critics of the FTC, later was modified by legislators.
Like, the House move against the FTC, the Senate action last week was taken without public hearings or debate. In the subcommittee, the language was presented by staff aides and adopted without being read to the members.
An ICC official reacted by saying, "Of course, it is legitimate for Sen. Cannon to tell us to slow down. It is up to him, as chairman of the Commeerce Committee, to determine if we are acting beyond our scope. But this is a secretive kind of attack on the agency, through the appropriations process."
According to Senate sources, the Appropriations blitz on the ICC began when Teamster lobbyists approached the committee with proposals to ban ICC spending on new regulations.
"We had a draft of some stuff," said a Teamster lobbyist, "and if we had our way we would just shoot those guys down. But the language is irrelevant. We think our people are entitled to a resolution of this issue through the legislative process. We're not writing legislation.This is not some huge boss ring out here telling people what to do."
Bennett C. Whitlock Jr., president of the American Trucking Associations, the main industry lobby group, definied that ATA has a role in writing the Appropriations Committee language, but he applauded it.
"We have said all along that the ICC was exceeding its authority and that something had to be done," Whitlock said. "Deregulation is a buzz word. Why don't you call it regulatory reform? What is happening now is that Congress is trying to prevent a regulatory agency from taking matters into its own hands. Sen. Cannon and the committee are telling the ICC to go slow before Congress has an opportunity to act."
The Appropriations directive is aimed at a recent notice from the ICC that it intended to consider rules that might allow new truckers to get into certain areas now strictly limited -- the transporting of iron and steel, refrigerated goods, new cars, lumber and building materials and household goods, among others.
Whitlock said the ICC proposal represented the "absolute gall" of an agency throwing a challenge at Congress by moving toward deregulation of a strongly controlled field of transportation.
Cannon and House transportation leaders, headed by Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.), are supporting an approach to deregulation less sweeping than that backed by Carter and Kennedy. Cannon's Commerce Committee will play a major role in any new legislation, which he has promised will be ready by June 1.
Cannon addressed an ICC workshop on trucking regulation last week, warning the agency to take no major actions until Congress has acted. "We are mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," Cannon said. "It is time that the agencies began to listen to the Congress."
Meanwhile, the truckers and the Teamsters are working feverishly to make certain that Congress listens to them.
Records at the Federal Election Commission show that the Teamsters' DRIVE committee has contributed $27,500 to candidates in next year's races. In 1977 and 1978, DRIVE gave candidates $140,000.
DRIVE's counterpart, the Truck Operators' Nonpartisan Committee, has given candidates $55,545 this year. Its 1977-1978 contributions were $204,620, according to FEC reports.
To augument its impact on Congress, Whitlock's ATA has launched a $2 million advertising campaign against deregulation and has hired former Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas to help fight its legal battles and open the right doors.
The truckers apparently are sparing no effort in approaching every door that may lead to help.
A group of industry executives, for example, met informally in Chicago earlier this month with Republican presidential candidate John Connally.Connally, according to his campaign aides, told the truckers he didn't have a firm position on deregulation but, in any case, it wasn't one of his priorities.
Cheered by that, the executives quickly passed the hat to help the Connally campaign. Connally aides said a full accounting was not yet available, but industry sources said the executives ponied up about $15,000 in a matter of minutes.