28. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for International Economic Affairs (Flanigan) to the President’s Assistant for Congressional Relations (Harlow), the President’s Assistant for Domestic Affairs (Ehrlichman), and the President’s Assistant (Haldeman)1

Considerable thought has been given to finding a mechanism for moving the decision on oil import quotas from the White House to the Hill. In order to make such a move a solution, or even a partial solution, to our dilemma, it must avoid the necessity of a White House recommendation. Such a recommendation would carry with it all the opprobrium of an adverse decision without bringing with it the credit that accrues with strong leadership.

The current draft of the Report runs to approximately 400 pages excluding appendices. It, in turn, is based on some 100,000 pages of data submitted for the record. Based on this data, much of it conflicting, the Report reaches certain conclusions as to the current facts and, based on those conclusions, makes projections as to what the facts will be in the future. These readings of current and future facts are then used as a basis for the program which is proposed. Reasonable men can differ as to the current status of the industry, projections as to the future status of the industry, and the degree to which the national security is affected by that future status.

The President could send a message to the Congress pointing out that his Task Force, on the basis of careful research and study, had reached certain conclusions on which a new program to restrict oil imports had been based. He could further state that this program would not only affect the national security, but also a great industry whose major investment decisions for ten years had been predicated on a different program. He could go on and say that because of the importance of the matter, he felt it was essential that both the Legislative and Executive branches of the government agree as to the bases on which the proposed oil import program rested. Therefore, he was requesting that a select committee of both houses of the Congress hold hearings to satisfy themselves as to the basic information and as to the judgments reached by the Task Force. The committee would be expected to review the submissions, to consider such additional information as they wished, and to probe the judgments made as to future conditions. The committee would be asked to submit its report to the President after six months, upon the receipt of [Page 74] which report the President could then determine the appropriate action to be taken with regard to a new import program.

The merits of the above proposal are that it forces the Congress to reach judgments regarding the national security aspects of the oil import program. If they conclude that it cannot be defended on the national security ground, it makes it clear to them that they must take action to provide other grounds. The program carefully avoids the necessity of an Administration recommendation for action until after Congress has acted.

The demerit of this proposal is that it is not one of strong leadership. It is an obvious avoidance of making a hard decision and to that extent is not helpful to the President.

I would appreciate your comments as to the above proposal, any suggestions you might wish to make to alter or improve it, and your position on whether or not it should be recommended to the President.2

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, Egil Krogh 1969–73, Box 71, Oil Import, Policy, Depletion. Confidential.
  2. In his response, Ehrlichman wrote that he agreed with Flanigan for the most part but disagreed with the suggestion that a select committee send a report after six months “since we are trying to get this decision off the President’s desk. This is just an invitation to return the hot potato to him six months from now.” Ehrlichman preferred that the President send the report to Congress “with the statement that he finds this to be a matter beyond the exclusive purview of the Executive and that the ball is now in the court of the Congress for action.” He continued that the President might request an “interim adjustment” for one or two years with the admonition that no further temporary steps beyond that date would be taken and that Congress had “better get going and arrive at a permanent solution to the problem before the temporary measures expire.” (Memorandum from Ehrlichman to Flanigan, December 31; ibid.) No response from Harlow or Haldeman was found.