Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said yesterday that he favors boosting the oil windfall profits tax to $190 billion or $200 billion and that Finance Committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D.La.) will back a compromise based on this figure.
Unless Congress enacts a "fair" tax that recaptures a substantial portion of the extra profits companies make through decontrol of oil prices, Byrd said, "controls should be slapped back on. The president can do this" and "shouldn't have any hesitancy."
The windfall profits bill, one of President Carter's most important legislative requests and one of the last major measures Byrd wants passed before the Senate adjourns Dec. 21, has been tied up for several days in a dispute over the size of the tax.
When Carter announced that he would phase out price controls on domestic oil in order to discourage excessive use and to provide more revenues for companies to spur production, he also proposed a tax to recapture a large portion of the extra profits that would result.
The House approved a bill close to the White House request, recapturing about $277 billion over the next 10 years. But the Senate Finance Committee sent to the floor a measure providing $138 billion over the same period.
A bloc of senators from non-oil states, led by Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), is proposing a substantial rise in the tax take, but some Republicans have stalled a vote on Bradley's amendment.
Byrd has been negotiating with all sides for a compromise, and yesterday he said the Senate figure ought to be "a minimum of $190 billion to $200 billion." He said that if this passes the Senate, the final House-Senate compromise bill could end up higher, in view of the House-approved $277 billion.
"The revenues in this bill have to be increased," the majority leader told reporters at his weekly news conference. "That is my view and the view I think of a great majority of the members of the Senate."
Asked if Sen. Long is willing to accept $190 billion to $200 billion in place of his committee's $138 billion, Byrd responded, "Yes. Yes, he is attempting to work out a reasonable compromise."
Byrd said Republican Whip Ted Stevens (Alaska); Finance Committee's senior Republican, Bob Dole (Kan.); Henry Bellmon (Okla.) and other Republicans plan to resume discussions among themselves Monday to try to work out a compromise ending delay on the bill.
Byrd himself has sponsored an amendment similar to Bradley's. It would add $22 billion in revenues by boosting the windfall profit tax rate from 60 percent to 75 percent on oil from wells put in production from 1973 to 1979. Presumably, it would be altered, or added taxes imposed elsewhere, to raise the yield to $190 billion or $200 billion once the procedural impasse is broken.
Byrd said "we have the votes" on the pending amendment once stalling ends and he would extremely reluctant to try for debate-limiting cloture unless all attempts to end the stalling failed.