It was incorrectly reported in yesterday's editions that Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) was absent for the vote on disapproving President Carter's oil import fee. Sarbanes voted to disapproved the fee.
Congress crushed President Carter's oil import fee by overwhelming votes of disapproval yesterday, with both houses piling up margins large enought to override Carter's promised veto.
In a stunning defeat for Carter and one of his latest energy proposals, the House voted, 376 to 30, to kill the dime-a-gallon fee on gasoline. This was followed within three hours by a Senate vote of 73 to 16 to do the same.
As Congress was voting, Carter reiterated his intention to veto a disapproval resolution no matter how lopsided the margin. As it turned out, the margin in both houses far exceeded the two-thirds vote necessary to override a veto, and the White House conceded it lacked the votes to sustain a veto.
But before the veto showdown occurs, the two chambers must reconcile differences about the packaging of the repeal measures.
The House passed its disapproval resolution separately, after rejecting a move to link it to a resolution extending the debt ceiling -- and thereby the government's borrowing power -- until June 30.
However, the Senate joined the two measures, requiring further action by the House, probably today. The House could go along with the Senate proposal or seek a House-Senate conference to resolve the difference. s
The fee, which Carter had announced in March he was imposing to provide a $10 billion budget-balancing cushion while raising the price of gasoline by 10 cents a gallon to encourage conservation, had been invalidated by a federal judge.
But the administration appealed the ruling, and Congress did not want to take any chances. It also wanted to share in the political glory of killing an unpopular tax increase.
In both houses, a majority of Democrats joined most Republicans in stomping Carter's import fee -- just a day after he gained enough delegate votes to win the Democratic nomination for a second term.
The rejection also comes on the eve of a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and an economic conference of industrialized nations, many of which have criticized the United States for lack of a coherent energy program. Carter has tried, often over congressional objections, to make conservation through higher energy prices a principal plank of his energy policy, and the import fee was part of that approach.
Insisting that he proposed the fee largely at the suggestion of congressional leaders, he told reporters late yesterday -- just as Congress was acting -- that rejection of the fee would "send a clear signal to oil-producing and oil-consuming nations that we do not mean business, that we will not take a firm stand to conserve oil." He added: "We will pay much higher prices for oil in the future because of that."
Carter acknowledged that the fee was not popular but described it as "right for the country" and worth fighting for.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), one of the few lawmakers to speak up for the fee, agreed with Carter, saying it was necessary insurance against a "likely" future cutoff of oil from the Persian Gulf.
But others, especially in the House, called it everything from a "turkey" to a "hoax."
A vote against repeal was described by Rep. John T. Myers (R-Ind.) as a vote for "protecting the president, not the taxpayers." "This is not a bold initiative," said Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.). "It is a turkey."
Even some of the fee's supporters damned it with faint praise. Arguing that the conservation effort should be stronger, Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.) said, "Ten cents [a gallon] is hardly worth discussing."
Democratic congressional leaders were trampled almost as severely as was Carter in the stampede to overturn the levy.Only a couple of weeks ago, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) moved to block a vote on the proposed repeal -- only to be forced to retreat, step after step, in the face of relentless pressure from Democrats as well as Republicans.
When urgent action to extend the debt ceiling became necessary late last week, the fee's opponents pounced on it as a vehicle for carrying a repeal rider over the hurdles of a presidential veto and two-thirds vote to override.
Congress must periodically extend and raise the national debt ceiling so the government can continue to borrow money to pay bills. May 31 was one such occasion, and because it coincided with the mailing of millions of Social Security checks, it was irresistible to the anti-fee forces as insurance against a veto of the repeal measure.
They succeeded in linking the two issues last week, permitting a five-day extension of the debt limit Friday in exchange for a vote yesterday on the repeal measure.
But yesterday O'Neill and Bolling succeeded in getting separate votes on the issues, over protests from Republicans that they were reneging on a pledge to let them be voted on together. After approving the import repealer by a huge margin, the House, in a much closer vote, 202 to 199, approved the debt measure and sent it to the Senate, too.
But the Senate quickly combined the two issues -- meaning that, if the House goes along, as it is expected to, Carter will have to veto the debt extension to keep his import fee.
Although this would mean the debt ceiling would drop from $879 billion to $400 billion on Friday, thereby blocking the government from borrowing to pay its bills, O'Neill quoted Treasury Secretary G. William Miller as saying the government could get by until next Tuesday.
Congress could quickly pass a debt ceiling extension after voting to override a veto of the import fee repealer.
As a finale for Carter's bad day on Capitol Hill, he joined about 45 congressional supporters last night to celebrate his convention-vote victory -- only to be greeted by dead silence when he told them he was counting on their support to keep the import fee. "Sometimes you get applause and sometimes you don't," said the president.
All Washington area lawmakers voted to repeal the import fee, except Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), who was absent.