WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III today voiced doubt that the Reagan Administration would consider any new tax or fee on imported oil to prop up the nation's sagging oil industry.
Despite hard times for energy-producing areas of the country, Baker said, "the lower oil prices go, the better it is for the United States economy overall."
Baker also denied that the Administration is seeking to negotiate a cease-fire in the worldwide oil price war.
"We're not in the business of sitting down with OPEC and talking about price levels for oil," he said, in a reference to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "We believe in letting the free market operate."
Baker was interviewed on NBC-TV's "Today" program.
Bush and Saudi Arabia
He reiterated comments by other Administration officials in denying that Vice President George Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia was a mission to persuade the Saudi government to cut back its oil production.
He was asked about reports that the Administration is considering helping U.S. producers by a doubling or tripling of the 50-cent-a-barrel excise tax on imported oil--with the revenues to buy oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
"The President has recently ruled out consideration of an oil import fee after initially saying he would consider it," concluding that the fee would harm the economy, Baker said.
"The same reasoning might apply" to an increase in the excise tax, he added.
"If you really want to help the oil industry, maybe you should think about repealing the windfall profits tax or deregulating natural gas," he added.