The big loser when the House failed Wednesday night to pass legislation that would largely repeal the Hatch Act was organized labor, which took its second lump on the jaw in as many attempts to get its favored legislation through Congress.
The bill, which for the first time since 1939 would allow the nations' take part in political campaigns and run for elective office, also carried the endorsement of the Carter administration. But the unions had the most riding on it.
Labor had already been knoced out in its first major outing of the year, when the House defeated its bill to expand picketing for the building trades, the common situs bill. A Hatch Act victory thus was a must for the unions, to recoup their damaged reputation for congressional clout.
Yet after seven hours of debate Wednesday, the Hatch Act repeal bill had to be withdrawn from the floor by its managers because the House had accepted, 229-168, what labor considered a politically crippling anti-union amendment offered by Republican John Ashbrook of Ohio.
The bill may well still pass if it is brought back up, as the leadership says it will be. But, in the meantime, labor is hurting.
The Ashbrook amendment would prevent federal employee worker unions, such as the Postal Workers or the American Federation of Government Employees, from using any dues, fees or assessments for any political purpose, including voter registration drives or just telling union members kn a newsletter about voting records of candidates. It goes far beyond any prohibitions now in law, labor claims.
Union lobbyists members of the Democratic leadership offer plenty of reasons why the amendment passed, with the help of 94 Democrats.
They point out that five of the six paragraphs in the long amendment simply prevent intimidation or coercion of federal workers into giving campaign contributons, or voting a certain way. That, they say, is what most of the Democrats thought they were voting for.
Democratic Whip John Brademas of Indiana also points out it was late in the evening, a time limit prevented discussion of the amendment, members were angry at having to work until 11 p.m. and, as usually happens in late sessions, a restless, inattentive mood had come over the House.
The bill's supporters also point out that the key amendment ot cripple the bill offered by Rep. Joseph Fisher (D-Va.) lost, 266-143. Fisher would have confined political participation by federal workers to state and local elections, but not allowed it in federal elections.
Finally both Brademas and AFL-CIO lobbyists say vote checks showed there were more than enough votes Wednesday night to pass the bill - though not enough to knock out the Ashbrook amendment.
But they also both agree the fact labor got knocked out like a fighter who wins the round but trips and knocks himself unconscious, does not make the loss much better.
"Of course it hurts." AFL-CLO lobbyist Ken Young said. "I'm thinking of applying for the job of handling the mace (a historic wooden pole that is brought in to the House chamber every working day). Maybe that's a job I won't screw up."
Young admitted that just the appearance of blowing another bill hurts labor's clout with Congress.
Brademas had an even more vital criticism. He said that both bills labor has tried to pass, common situs and repeal of the Hatch Act, were of interest to only a small segment of unions in the AFL-CLO the building trades and the government employee unions.
Brademas said that while they were pushed by the Washington-based labor heirarchy, they may not have been the best bills to make a test on. "Maybe the lesson here is that they can't rely solely on resolutions passed by the executive council of the organization to get bills through."
The Hatch Act repeal is not scheduled for House consideration anytime soon.