The Carter administration yesterday proposed specific gasoline consumption limits for every state next year and asked the governors to come up with plans to stay within the suggested totals.
But Carter energy experts acknowledged that totals for most states were set about where gasoline comsumption appears headed anyway, so that the limits are more symbolic than binding.
The administration also lacks authority to enforce such limits, except in special circumstances, and yesterday the Senate rejected, 67 to 26, a proposal to increase this power.
The gasoline consumption limits were announced at a news conference by Energy Secretary Charles Duncan, who also confirmed a Washington Post report Wednesday that the White House is considering proposing a gasoline tax increase of up to 50 cents a gallon or some type of rationing next year to cut consumption.
Congress has balked at gasoline tax increases in the past. It has also been cautions on rationing. As yesterday's Senate vote indicates, Congress has shied away from almost all proposals to limit energy use directly.
Duncan said that specific ideas for restricting consumption would be left to the states. The only specific suggestion he offered was enforcement of the 55-mph speed limit.
The national target for gasoline use announced yesterday is an average of 6.8 million barrels a day during January, February and March, and probably 7 million barrels a day for the year, Duncan told the governors in a letter.
Some administration experts, however, estimate the higher prices and a weak economy will keep gasoline use below 7 million barrels a day in 1980 even if the governors take no action at all.
Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, speaking on behalf of the National Governors Association, denounced the administrations for announcing state-by-state targets without first consulting with the states.
"Prior consulation, which was promised the governors at a White House meeting three weeks ago, would have helped DOE avoid obvious mistakes in the determination of some state goals," Lamm said.
"The DOE target for Colorado, for example, would allow our state a 9-percent increase in gasoline usage during the first three months of 1980 because of a quirk in the data that federal officials did not understand," Lamm said.
Colorado and Alaska used less in the first three months of 1979 than indicated by a DOE formula linking growth in gasoline use in recent years, population growth and the national target. Therefore, those states are free to use more in the first quarter than they did this year. At the other end of the scale, Kansas was asked to take a 15-percent cut, while Massachusetts, Michigan and North Dakota were targeted for 11-percent cuts. Six states were pegged with the District, at about 10-percent.
The gasoline tax proposal and rationing ideas were discussed yesterday morning at a White House breakfast meeting between President Carter and the steering committee of his Economic Policy Group, sources said.
That committee includes Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, James McIntyre, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Charles Shultze, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and Carter's domestic policy aide, Stuart Eizenstat.
No decision was made at the meeting, and analysis of the tax and rationing proposals will continue, sources indicated.
In Congress, the tax idea got a mixed reaction. Rep. Al Ullman (D-Ore.), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee noted that there has been little support for higher gasoline taxes and not much more for rationing. But Ullman added, "In view of the current situation, it is something Congress ought to look at and it may receive more favorable consideration now."
His Senate counterpart, Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), chairman of the Finance Committee, was much more skeptical. "I don't see how it could pass when it didn't get much support the last time around," Long said of the tax.
The possibility of using part of the $50 billion a 50-cent gasoline tax would raise each year to reduce the Social Security tax, Long said, would "make it more attractive," but it still would not get far, in his view.
Rep. John Anderson (R-Ill.) who is a candidate for his party's presidential nomination, first proposed in August a 50-cent tax per gallon to cut gasoline use, with part of the proceeds being used to reduce Social Security taxes. Cuts in payroll and personal income taxes are part of the proposal under study at the White House.
Anderson plans to introduce legislation Monday that would impose a 50-cent tax on both gasoline and diesel fuel, raising an estimated $61 billion annually.
Anderson would use $46 billion of that to cut the Social Security tax from a scheduled 6.13 percent in 1981 to 3 percent. Another $13 billion would underwrite a cut in the employer's share of the payroll tax from 6.13 percent to 5 percent.
Anderson estimated that a family with one wage-earner making $20,000 would get a $626 cut in payroll taxes under his proposal. If the family used less than 1,252 gallons of gasoline a year -- say, driving no more than 17,780 miles a year in a car getting 15 miles to the gallon -- it would end up ahead, Anderson said.