The House yesterday began its last full work week of the year by racing through a parliamentary potpourri that included bills to eliminate a surplus (of raisins), avert a shortage (of dry gin), extend a regulation (on interest rates, and denouncing two governments (of) South Korea and South Africa).
In all, the House condidered and approved eight separate measures in about three hours, enforcing a tight limit on debate and an outright prohibition against amendments. Such hasty procedure violates several provisions of the House rules, which contemplate a more cautious pace for floor proceedings. Nobody raised a peep of portest, however, because yesterday was "suspension" day in the House, when the rules are suspended so that a lot of legislation can be approved in a little time.
Normally, the "suspension" system is employed about twice per month to clear the calendar of relatively non-controversial bills but recently, with Congress pushing toward adjournment, there have been two "suspension" days almost every week.
"Suspension" saves time because it establishes a strict limit of 40 minutes' debate on any bill that comes up. Floor amendments - which consume hours or days of debate under regular rules - are not permitted. To assure that the system is used only for bill with wide support, a two-thirds vote, not merely a majority, is required to pass bills under suspension.
The shortcut procedure is made to order for such measures as the foreign policy resolutions - "motherhood resolutions," as Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.) called them - which were passed yesterday.
One condemned the South African government for repressing dissent. The other criticized South Korean for failing to cooperate with investigations of the Korean influence-buying scandal. There were a few members who wanted to debate each resolution, but neither one had substantial opposition.
A surplus of California raisins gave rise to a vote amending the Agricultural Marketing agreement Act of 1937.
The 1937 law did not permit groups of raisin growers to assess members to pay for advertising. But today California is producing raisins than the rest of the country wants to buy. Yesterday's vote would authorize advertising in the hope of increasing demand.
Another vote yesterday amendment section 5025 (B) of the Internal Revenue Code to permit distillers to use extracted oils of juniper berries for dry gin without paying a "rectification tax" on the gin thus produced.
It sounded extremely technical but Bill Prendergast, of the Distilled Spirits Council, had a simple explanation: The exemption will make it easier for American makers to compete with English gin. "We're averting a grave national crisis," Prendergast chuckled, "a shortage of domestic gin."
With the end of the legislative session and the end of the year both approaching. Congress is busy extending statutes, regulations, and governmental bodies that are due to expire. The "suspension" procedure is commonly used for such action.
The House yesterday approved a measure permitting the Federal Reserve System to buy governmental securities directly from the Treasury. That authority is rarely used, but it has existed, on a "temporary" basis, since 1942. The House decided that now is not the time to end it. The members also approved another one-year extension for the Federal Reserve's Regulation Q.
That controversial regulation permits "thrift" institutions - savings and loan firms and savings banks - to pay one-quarter per cent more interest on deposit than commercial, or "full service" banks, can pay.
"Regulation Q" was designed to ensure that thrift institutions will have a ready supply of money for home mortgage loans. Commercial bankers have been lobbying for years to determinate it. Yesterday's vote means they'll have to try again next year.
Today's calendar calls for at least 10 more "suspension" bills as the House works its way to adjournment. After Friday's session, the members will go home, with only pro-forma sessions scheduled intermittently until late November, when a conference committee is expected to finish work on the President's energy legislation.