The champagne was on ice and the glasses were neatly arranged on a table yesterday afternoon in the historic lounge used by womem members of the House.
The party was planned by an aide to Rep. Newton I. Steers (R-Md.) to celebrate passage of the domestic violence act, a bill so uncontroversial that its backers took the legislative shortcut reserved for proposals that face little or no opposition.
The champagne was still in the refrigerator last night after the so-called battered wives bill, which needed a two-thirds majority for passage under suspension of the rules, did not get even a majority, failing 205 to 201.
"We forgot one of the basic skills of politics. We didn't count," admitted Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), who along with Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Steers were the original sponsors of the legislation.
Steers, a freshman representative from Montgomery County, agreed that it had been a mistake to try to force passage of the measure under suspension of rules, a procedure that permits no amendments and limits debate to 40minutes.
"It got less thorough consideration" than it would have normally, added Steers, who had been counting on its passage to mark his first major piece of legislation in Congress.
Yesterday's vote probably means the defeat of the idea in the form proposed by Steers, he conceded.
Steers was not the only House member caught short by the setback. A number of veterans expressed surprise at the outcome.
"It's puzzling to us," said a spokesman for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who sponsored the bill in its final form, after the Steers-Boggs-Mikulski proposal was changed in committee.
The bill had the support of majority and minority leaders of both the full House and the committee and subcommittee where it had been the subject of extensive hearings. Majority Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.) acted as floor manager yesterday and made the motion to place it for a vote under suspension.
"There was no articulated dissatisfaction," the aide to Miller went on, "and there was no reason to expect that level of opposition from the brief debate."
The bill called for an Office on Domestic Violence to be established in the office of the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. It would oversee a council, comprised largely of victims of abused or their social workers, which would award grants to existing local shelters for battered spouses. Grants would have a three-year limit, and none could be for more than $50,000, or more than 25 percent of an agency's budget.
While much of the opposition came from conservatives, a number of liberal Democrats voted against it.
Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) did not want to place additional spending power in the hands of HEW Secretary Joseph Califano, who "has been indicating that money in his department has been used in a peculiar manner," an aide to Brown said.
Reps. Abner J. Mikva (D-I11.) and Andrew Jacobs (D-Ind.) balked at the $125 million cost over the next five years, though both said they supported the goal. "We've got to draw the line somewhere on new programs," was Mikva's reasoning.
Still others indicated they were protesting what they saw as a trend toward bringing costly, complicated legislation to a vote without full debate.