19. Notes on a Meeting of the Cabinet Task Force on Oil Import Control With President Nixon1

Avoiding decision. Not possible to do nothing. Failing to act is to maintain the present exaction upon consumers and on the economy.
Present restriction indefensible. Everyone concedes the need for reform in present administrative arrangements. Beyond this, our analysis demonstrates the difficulty of making an intellectually defensible case for maintaining the present degree of restriction—least of all by a tariff which confers effective price determining power on Texas.
Difficult public posture in maintaining present restriction. The President himself set the forces in motion for a fundamental reexamination, created an outside professional staff and a high-level cabinet committee to examine the merits; and we are committed to issuing a public report. That report will permit the President legally to maintain the present program, but it will not be an easy posture to defend.
Surrender to powerful special interests.” Public concern on this score is, unfortunately and unjustly, a particular cross for Republicans to bear. But such surrender will be perceived by many—given the absence of a strong justification for this program.
A “festering sore”—bound to get worse. With the issue opened by the administration, with reports of private meetings with a major oil [Page 62]executive, with restriction coming to bite increasingly hard, and with the public record already developed on this issue—intense concern and sniping will grow rather than diminish. President may be forced to action at a less opportune time.
President’s prestige. Having opened an issue whose resolution will encounter severe flak no matter what he does, the President’s status will be most enhanced by a decision on the merits. The strength of standing on the merits even when it does not stand him in good stead with powerful private interests will enrich the President’s prestige. Over one or two administrations, nothing so raises a President’s standing as the widespread realization that he does the right thing. The President’s standing in circles not otherwise friendly to him was immeasurably improved by his decision on the welfare program. The same can happen here. In the long run, this is a President’s strength.
Inflation control. The Administration has said that it will not “jawbone” but “will act.” This is the opportunity to act—especially with word of price increases in heating oil and coal.
Upstage Kennedy & Proxmire and other critics. Controversy created by them will keep the benefit to consumers alive. President Nixon acted in a straightforward, highly dispassionate, and analytical way as compared with (1) failure of two Democratic presidents to act notwithstanding increasingly severe restraint, (2) KennedyMuskie2 (etc.) half-baked proposal for “special deals” for particular oil companies, and (3) failure of consumer critics even to try to analyze the national security issue. Furthermore, their talk of abandoning all import restrictions obscures the issue: no sensible person would remove restrictions precipitously; the only sensible step is the one we’re now [hopefully] taking.
Discrediting “national security.” In a time of widespread doubt about the meaning of national security and distrust about what many regard as the national security cloak for various industrial interests, the national government would lose trust and credibility if it invoked “national security” to confer on a powerful industry a special benefit not compellingly justified on the merits.
Consumerism is a coming issue.
Market and free enterprise system v. subsidies, unjustified government intervention, and special deals from government to a favored few.
Greater home for Venezuelan oil. (Although it should be noted that anything less than unlimited access for Venezuela to our market at the $3.30 price will not be applauded there.)
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 220, Records of the Cabinet Task Force on Oil Import Control, Box 22, Meetings Files, Philip Areeda’s Notes from Meeting with the President, 11/20/69. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Flanigan, Shultz, and Areeda from 4:37 to 5 p.m. and again from 5:32 to 6:50 p.m. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. Senator Edward Kennedy (D–Massachusetts), Senator William Proxmire (D–Wisconsin), Senator Edmund Muskie (D–Maine).