The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said yesterday that he doubts Congress will go along with the Reagan administration's proposal to deregulate natural gas this year.
Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), speaking on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC), said he expects the Reagan administration to push for deregulation of the wellhead price of gas as of Sept. 30, "But pressing for it and getting it are two different things." The move, intended to encourage exploration and consumer conservation, could cost gas users an additional $50 billion to $80 billion annually. In the Washington area, deregulation could raise heating bills for consumers who heat with gas by 50 to 100 percent.
McClure, and Rep. Barber Conable (R-N.Y.) who appeared yesterday on "Face the NATION" (CBS, WDVM), threw several caveats at the Reagan administration, suggesting less than total acceptance of some major presidential initiatives.
Although McClure said he favors deregulation, he predicted the Reagan administration could lose the battle if the president holds fast to his resolve to make it happen this year.
McClure said that Congress last year passed a natural gas act "that sets us on the path to decontrol. . . . Congress isn't likely to plunge back into that thicket." He recommended that the Reagan administration save its energy for more crucial fights on major economic issues.
Conable, ranking Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he expects Reagan's proposed tax cuts to "be coming down the pike pretty fast."
But even though "Congress still hears the election results thundering in its ears" and will be disposed to act quickly, he predicted that Congress will try to modify proposals for across-the-board tax cuts of 10 percent a year for the next three years to include provisions to encourage savings and investment.
He also said he believes the public and Congress will accept sweeping propals for cutting a wide range of programs, including some of the most entrenched social programs, as long as the cuts are even-handed and touch all sectors.
"If that occurs, the public will accept it, and if the public accepts a general scarifice across the board the Congress will accept it," he said. He also noted that recommendations for proposed cuts, which surfaced this weekend, in many cases do not call for major cuts this year but impose ceilings on future expenditures.
McClure also said he is reluctant to see the Department of Energy abolished immediately -- as promised during the Reagan campaign.
"I don't support the immediate dismantling of the department because of the signal it would send around the world about the U.S. commitment to do something about energy," he said.