While printers were printing, schedulers were scheduling, and lobbyists lobbying all over the Senate, the waterways toll bill, S.790, moved toward a final vote - and got a major boost upward along the way.
With a little help from a well-placed friend, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the bill's sponsor, found himself in a legislative catbird seat. He chief opponents had been forced to admit that they might have to vote for Domenici's bill.
S.790 would require barge lines hauling freight through canals, locks and channels built and maintained by the government to pay a charge for using those waterways. The barge industry, which has never paid a penny for the mult-billion-dollar inland water network, has mounted a steadfast fight in the Senate against the bill.
Meanwhile, the barge interests have been working for Senate passage of a long-sought $420 million authorization to rebuild Locks and Dam 26, the 26th federally built barge facility downstream from Minneapolis on the Mississippi.
Since he first introcuced S.790, Domenici has worked to link his fee proposal with the authorization for the new lock.
Late Friday evening, Domenici and the rest of the Senate learned that the two measures would indeed by linked - by Jimmy Carter. In a letter to Senate, Transportation Secretary Brock Adams said that senators who favor the new look would have to vote for S.790, too, to get it.
In essence, Carter had adopted a "hostage" stratgy, holding the new lock hostage to the imposition of tolls. Presumably, some pro-barge senators would now have to vote for S. 790 to free the hostage.
For Domenici, Adam's letter came as a godsend, but the cheery New Mexican had to admit the message was not exactly a bolt from the blue. In fact, Domenici had been nudging Adams toward the "hostage" position for the past few weeks in a series of friendly phone calls.
Adams and Domenici have been friends since Adams' service in the House of Representatives.
Adams had chaired the House Budget Committee, and he had retained his interest when he left Congress to join Carter's Cabinet. To keep up, he made regular calls all spring to his friend Domenici. The senator would recount the latest budget developments, and then steer the conversation around the S.790.
Adams and the White House also had reasons of their own for sending the "hostage" letter. Carter and his budget director, Bert Lance, were both suspicious in general of the Army Corps of Engineers' grandiose plans for the new lock, and both were anxious for the income that waterway tolls could provide.
Adams, moveover, was angery that his carefully prepared Senate testimony on the lock - he suggested that construction be delayed for a study - had been totally ignored by pro-barge Senators on the Public Works and Commerce committees.
When he heard that Adam's letter was on the way, Domenici's first fear was that it would arrive on the Hill too late to do any good. So Lee Rawls, of the senator's staff, dashed off a note to William (Bernie) Hildenbrand, who works for Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), beseeching him to have S.790 put off a few weeks on the Senate floor schedule.
Hildenbrand has a working relationship with his counterparts on the majority staff that permits either side to delay scheduling of any bill. It was arranged that the measure would not come to the floor for another week to two, giving Adams' message time to sink in before the final vote.
Meanwhile, the mechanics of moving the bill from committee to the Senate floor were proceeding apace. A committee report, containing the views of the two committees that had considered S.790, and a new text of the bill, containing committee amendments, were rushed to the printers and distributed to every member.
THe actual record of the Public Works Committee's hearings would not be printed before the Senate vote, but Hal Brayman, another Domenici staffer, saw to it that the most favorable parts of the record got out anyway.
Brayman wrote a series of speeches quoting various supporting witnesses. The speeches were distributed, one each, to Republicans supporting Domenici. They are being inserted, by a different senator each day , in the Congressional Record.
Like hungry dogs responding to Pavlov's bell, packs of lobbyists descended on the Senate office buildings in anticipation of the impending floor vote.
The first rule in any successful lobbyist's book is to bring local pressure to bear. Pressure, from every state in the union, was being brought, Telephone calls, telegrams and sacks of letters about S.790 were pouring in to Washington.
And a few letters were going the other way, Newspapers in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Alamogordo, N.M., began receiving letters from "concerned citizens" of Arkansas, Mississippi, and other river states denouncing Domenici.
With a final Senate vote approaching, the battle of S.790 was heating up.