Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Until a year ago, there had never been anything like it for women in the U.S. Congress.
Then, in what Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.) described Tuesday as "a breakthrough," she and 14 others united on a bipartisan basis in something called the Cogresswoman's Caucus.
"We are so serious about legislation, about changing the Social Security law, the tax code, equality to women," she told a throng that included Rosalynn Carter and Joan Mondale, "that sometimes we are accused of being too heavy about our congressional responsibilities."
That possibility didn't seem to bother House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (D-Mass.), who outdistanced all but about a half-dozen fellow male members of Congress by paying his respects at the $100-a-ticket reception the caucus gave itself Tuesday night at the Pan American Union.
"I pledge on my honor as a Boy Scout," O'Neill said, "that anything I can do for you, I'm with you all the way."
The purpose was to raise funds to create a legislative staff to provide the caucus with legal research into issues affecting women. As Heckler, the group's co-chairwomen put it, congresswomen weren't able to assign staff members in their offices to deal exclusively with women's issues.
"To really do it with a clear conscience and not take time from our legislative duties, we had to seek outside funding." she said. The group incorporated its research arm, calling it Congresswomen's Caucus Corps.
The first response, according to Heckler, was an unsolicited $1,000 check from the president of Sears Roebuck and Co., a man with whom she had negotiated on the Equal Credit Act providing credit rights for women. After that, another 19 businesses and labor groups came through with $500 each to buy the title "patron"; nine sent $250 becoming "sponsors" and about two dozen sent $100 to earn the title of "friends."
If male members of Congress were in short supply, neither was there a 100 percent turnout of women members. Unaffiliated with the caucus are Reps. Marjorie S. Holt (R- Md.), Marilyn Lloyd (D-Tenn.) and Virginia Smith (R-Neb.).
"You'll have to ask them why they haven't joined," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), speculating that "maybe they're afraid they'll be labeled that they're shutting themselves out."
Robert Strauss, President Carter's man-in-perpetual-motion, currently moving on inflation, showed up with a retinue of ABC-TV cameramen.He had hugs for some women in the caucus, kisses for others and tales of contributing to most of their campaigns "if not all."
"Even Republicans?" someone asked him.
"I didn't go that far," he replied. "I'm not sexist but I am partisan."