The Humphrey-Hawkins bill, which would set a national goal of 4 percent unemployment by 1983, but stop short of requiring government action to get there, passed the House yesterday.
The vote was 257 to 152, divided largely along party lines; the Democratic leadership had made passage of the bill a party issue.
The bill as passed and sent to the Senate was significantly weaker than an earlier version which would have compelled the government to take steps - including becoming an employer of last resort - to meet its unemployment target. These compulsory provisions were dropped.
As a result, the legislation came to be looked upon by many members as largely symoblic, and they decorated it with all kinds of "goals," some of which are unlikely ever to be met.
Among provision added to the bill as national objectives were giving farmers 100 percent of parity, reducing inflation, balancing the budget, considering foreign imports' impact on the economy, removing architectural barriers to the handicapped, providing flexitime and part-time jobs for working mothers, and developing alternate modes of transportation and alternate energy technologies.
At one point, Rep. Charles E. Wiggins (R-Calif.) moved to kill the bill because "a mere seedling has grown into an unworkable monster and the beat goes on."
"I would not be surprised if some consideration would be given to the weather since that also impacts on the economy," Wiggins said, adding, "The seedling has grown into Christmas tree and it would be mereciful to chop it down."
But Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) called the bill as healthy as Muhammad Ali"and said the amendments passed were "harmonious" with the goal of full employment."
Wright argued the bill was "not encumbered to the point of ineffectiveness but strengthened" by the amendments adopted.
"We can take this bill to the most conservative constituency," Wright said, because the theory of the bill "is not that America owes every citizen a living, but America owes every citizen the opportunity to make a living."
Wright called it a "historic bill" and compared it to the Full Employment Act of 1946. Sen. Muriel Humphrey (D-Minn.), whose late husband was an author of the bill, was loudly applauded when she appeared on the House floor to congratulate the bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D-Calif.). But one veteran Democrat questioned whether the bill as passed had enough substance to even be a law.
Among the major amendments to the bill turned down by the House, though by relatively close margins, were Republican offerings to have a balanced budget by 1983, set a traget date of 1983 for a 3 percent inflation rate, and require tax reductions for individuals and corporations at a set rate for the next three years.
The House also rejected, 259 to 153, a section of the bill that would have allowed the Joint Economic Committee to submit a resolution each year containing numerical goals for employment, unemployment, production, real income and productivity. The House ordered the panel merely to submit its recommendations to the Budget Committee for inclusion in that Committee's resolution on the budget, a procedure which insures less visibility for the bill in the future.
A Republican substitute, which would have established a presidential task force on youth unemployment, directed the president to focus on the problems of inflation and taxation when developing economic policy and required the Council of Economic Advisers to study the effects of inflation on the income tax structure, failed, 276 to 137.
The bill would create a mechanism for national economic planning, requiring the president to establish each year economic goals and to coordinate federal policies to meet those goals and report to Congress annually on his immediate and five-year goals for employment, production, real income and productivity.
The bill would set interim unemployment goals of 4 percent among all workers, including teenagers 16 and over, and 3 percent for adults over 20 by 1983, though the president could revise the timetable if he deemed it necessary.
The president would have to include in his economic report the policies and programs he planned to use to achieve the targets set forth.