THE HOUSE is scheduled to vote today on a resolution disapproving the oil import fee. The vote embodies a clear test of nerve: are we going to get control over our consumption of oil back into U.S. hands or are we going to leave it to the oil-producing nations? The oil import fee makes sense. The consumption of gasoline goes down as price goes up; the price increases in the last year alone have reduced consumption by more than 5 percent. And the evidence is that this reduction could be made even greater without cutting into the use of automobiles for work or other essential travel. While Americans have cut back on using their cars, they haven't done nearly enough.

At this point, conservation of oil is being imposed upon this country from the outside in the form of unpredictable price increases that have been difficult for the economy to digest. It is inevitable that we will learn over the next few years to live in a reordered economy in which energy is expensive. Prices will continue to climb until a new equilibrium is reached. Measured, U.S.-controlled doses of price increase will be a good deal easier to take than those OPEC has been administering. It is naive to think that OPEC will not continue to raise its prices. And it is disingenuous of Congress to pretend that refusing to impose a fee of 10 cents a gallon will ensure its constituents against ever having to pay more at the gas pump. It will only save them from paying the increase to their own government.

Members of Congress who don't want to discomfit the home folks will be tempted to find a lot of reasons to vote against the fee. But they should resist. Short-lived annoyance is a small price to pay for taking this very important step toward energy independence. The oil import fee deserves and urgently needs to be enacted.