Do not be deceived. All that Congress legislates is not the great gray matter of energy, war and taxes.
The fascinating stuff you rarely hear about is the stuff of grizzly bears, tennis players, Baptist churches, aliens, disease - to help them, save them, abolish them or whatever.
The grist of the legislative mill is a variety of bills that become law, not to mention hundreds of others that don't, but are seldom heard about in blazing headlines.
Last year, for example, House and Senate action led to the enactment of 223 public laws. Another 27 private bills - usually measures to help an individual - also became law of the land.
One that made it was a bill to restore citizenship to Jefferson Davis. Another proclaimed National Lupus Week (don't even ask about that). The Senate approved naming of the Roman L. Hruska Meat Animal Research Center. But one that failed was a renewal of the insignia patent for the Daughters of the Confederacy.
So it goes in the legislative trenches. The Last Resort
Congress, among many other things, is a sort of court of last resort for the aggrieved. When the bureaucracy has goofed, the courts have failed and all other remedies have gone down the tubes, Congress is where one goes to get a problem solved.
What happens after an individual's problem comes to the attention of Congress is a matter of chemistry. It helps to have (1) a political friend, (2) an overwhelmingly just and appealing complaint and (3) luck.
Look what happened to Martina Navratilova. She is the professional tennis player who defected to this county from Czechoslovakia in 1975.
Navratilova's problem came to Congress and, for now, at least, you might say the score is one set to love against her. She hasn't won, but she hasn't lost, either.
The U.S. Tennis Association was anxious to have her represent this country in several major international tournaments that would have required her to be a U.S. citizen. Residency Bill
So a bill was introduced to waive the usual five-year residency requirement and allow her to become a U.S. citizen.
Over the objections of Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.), the chairman, the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration passed the bill. It won full committee approval (who could oppose a winner) and went to the House floor.
Eilberg objected because he said the bill was just bad precedent. He said athletic excellence ought not to justify waiving the rules. It would open the door to all manner of foreign cello players, linguists and the like, he suggested.
As it turned out, that was enough. The bill was not passed when it reached the floor this month. It was passed over, meaning that it remains on the calendar for future consideration. Another Precedent
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) is upset about another type of precedent he fears would develop if the Senate adopts S. 1476.
That is a bill that would pay $98,999 to the estate of Harry Eugene Walker of Anniston, Ala. The amount would settle claims arising from his death in 1972 in Yellowstone National Park.
Walker was killed and partially eaten by a grizzly bear that wandered into his camp.
The Judiciary Committee, agreeing with Alabama's senators, who pushed the bill, passed it and sent it to the Senate floor. There, however, it's stalled because Wallop objects to it.
Wallop says he thinks the policy is not good.The Treasury, he says, should not have to answer for wayward grizzlies.
Then there is the matter of the First Baptist Church of Paducah, Ky. The church's claim, for $171,990 against Uncle Sam, passed both the House and Senate and became law with President Carter's signature this week. A Lot of Faith
What counted there, obviously, was a large amount of faith, plus a few handy political friendships that helped say amen to a dispute that went back to 1964.
Basically, it involved an offer made by the General Services Administration to buy the church building then. An option was signed, the church got bank loans and built a new house of worship elsewhere, counting on the sale to GSA.
But GSA had a change of heart. That left the church in a fix - an abandoned building downtown that no one else wanted and a costly new building in the outskirts of Paducan.
The Paducah Baptists thought that wasn't right, and that GSA ought to coup up. Last year, Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) took up the cause and, lickety-split, he got a compensation bill passed without so much as hearing in the Judiciary Committee.
Then the Senate passed the bill. That occurred one evening when only a few senators were on the floor and the presiding officer happened to be . . . Wendell Ford.
From there it went to the House. After months of thinking about it, a Judiciary subcommittee on claims, headed by Rep. George E. Danielson (D-Calif.), held a hearing.
The subcommittee passed the bill, changing only the amount of compensation. That was cut from $207,740 to $171,990. The full committee okayed the bill and the House passed it in early May.
From the House, the bill went back to the Senate, where it had to be reconsidered due to the amendment. Ford again happened to be presiding when the bill was called up late one afternoon. Lickety-split it went, one more time. 347 Special Bills
Danielson's subcommittee in the House is the place where claims against the government land. In the 94th Congress (1975-76), the subcommittee got 347 bills of this sort. Only 29 went on to become law.
"It is impossible to take them all up," Danielson said the other day. "We won't take them up unless the U.S. government did somethink or failed to do something that caused substantial damage to the aggrieved and where it would be unconscionable not to make amends."
"Absolutely," he added. "This is the last resort. We are just this side of St. Peter . . . But we can't use taxpayers' money just to feel sorry for people. We have to be stingy - it's your money and mine."
In that vein, the House today will deal with a bill from Danielson's subcommittee, authorizing $543 million to settle Social Security claims between the federal government and the states. Before stinginess raised its head, the claims were for $2.4 billion.
There is, of course, another side to the subject of the small private bill. In the late 1960s, Congress was rocked by disclosures that Chinese merchant seamen were paying lawyers and lobyists to have bills introduced to allow them to stay here.
A Senate investigation concluded that no senator or Senate employe was involved in misconduct, but procedures for handling bills of that kind were tightened considerably.
Nowdays it takes more than just being a tennis star or a Communist-bloc seaman to get special treatment.