President Carter yesterday vetoed a congressional resolution to kill his oil import fee, and the House promptly responded with an emphatic 335-to-34 vote to override the veto.
The Senate today was expected to follow the lead of the House, although Senate Minority Whip Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said Carter's veto might be sustained there if he could win over enough Republicans with the lure of a tax cut. Other GOP sources said this was unlikely.
In vetoing the resolution, Carter appealed to Congress -- before a throng of reporters in the Oval Office -- to rise above politics and let him proceed with ther 10-cent-a-gallon gasoline surcharge that the fee entails.
"It doesn't help for public officials to stand up and make speeches about conserving energy and controlling inflation and controlling unemployment unless they are willing to stand up and take the political heat by making tough decisions . . .," he said.
In his formal message to Congress, he also recalled that he drafted the fee in cooperation with congressional leaders. Noting that it "might not be in the individual political interests of many members" of Congress, he said he acted under his executive authority to impose the fee, thereby "shielding the Congress from most of the immediate political repercussions."
But shielded or not, the House could hardly wait to override the veto last night, greeting the White House messenger with applause, whistles and cheers when he arrived with the veto message. Foregoing debate, it voted to override the veto that Carter cast two hours earlier and than went home, without need for a session today.
The nearly 10-to-1 ratio in the House was far more than the two-thirds vote necessary to override a veto and only slightly less than the margin when the House voted Wednesday for the disapproval resolution. The Senate vote on Wednesday to kill the fee was 73 to 16, also far more than two-thirds.
As in the previous votes, a large majority of Democrats joined Republicans in delivering a stunning setback to the Democratic president and his energy program -- just after he won enough delegate votes for renomination and just before a major round of international meetings affecting American energy interests.
Suffering with him was the Democratic congressional leadership, which supported the fee and, in the case of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), attempted to forestall a vote on repeal, only to be trampled by a rebellious membership.
The resolution that went to Carter was the Senate's version -- one that linked the repeal of the oil import fee to a routine but critical measure extending the federal debt ceiling, and thereby the government's ability to borrow to pay bills, until June 30.
With only a shout of "yahoo" from Rep. Robert E. Bauman (Md.), the chief GOP strategist in the anti-fee cause, the House earlier yesterday abandoned its separate debt and oil fee resolutions and approved the Senate's twined version by voice vote.
Carter's veto of the resolution means that, as of today, the government's borrowing authority has expired, although it would be restored quickly by a Senate vote to override the veto. The borrowing lapse was the reason many foes of the import fee wanted to link the two measures: to make the repeal measure harder to veto or, failing that, to make it easier to override a veto.
The Treasury Department announced last night that it was suspending the sale of U.S. savings bonds, retirement plan bonds and individual retirement bonds as of today, until further notice.
Carter said he regretted having to veto the double-billed resolution because extending the debt ceiling is "critically important to the financial operations" of the government. But he said the veto was vital because loss of the import fee would "encourage more domestic energy consumption, add to our intolerable oil import bill, hinder our efforts for energy security, obstruct our flight against inflation and be inconsistent with our responsibility for leadership among the oil-consuming nations."
Carter imposed the fee as an emergency conservation tool and budget-balancing cushion in March, but its implementation last month was blocked by a federal court ruling that the administration is appealing.
A Senate veto override would make Carter the first Democratic president since Harry S. Truman in 1952 to be overriden by Congress. Carter has been sustained in 21 vetoes.