The biggest parks bill ever drafted, a $1.4 billion piece of legislation with 150 projects in 44 states, cleared the House Rules Committee in five minutes yesterday.
"Notice how quiet we are. We all got something in there," Rules Committee member Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said after the meeting.
In fact, the bill affects so many House members - about 200, or nearly half the House - that it is being called the "park-barrel" bill and hailed as a new variation in the old politics of pork that may make environmentalists as popular as the dam-building Army Corps of Engineers.
The bill is a product of the legislative ingenuity of Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), one of the House's political masterminds, who just took over the chairmanship of the Interior Committee's parks subcommittee last year.
Burton ran two years ago for majority leader, and lsot by only one vote to Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.). He is considering running again in the next Congress, and some members have suggested privately that his ambitions and his generous parks bill are not unrelated.
The bill would increase development funds for 34 parks, historical sites and seashores, make 12 additions to wilderness areas, create 11 new national parks, historic sites and national seashores, add additional segments of eight rivers to the Wild and Scenic River class and designate four new national trails. Studies for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic River class would be authorized for another 18 rivers.
For the White House, the bill would include 85 to 90 percent of President Carter's environmental program, including $750 million for his urban parks program over the next five years.
"If it had a blade of grass and a squirrel, it got in the bill," said one member who pointed out that the bill even includes money for salaries and expenses for the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.
But Burton says the park-barrel talk "offends me," and points out that the bill also contains some very controversial items, which have made some members mad.
Burton admits that he originally conceived the idea for a big omnibus parks bill as a vehicle for his own project - saving the redwoods in California by adding a large amount of acreage to the Redwoods National Park.
The redwoods bill breezed on its own, but Burton decided to keep the omnibus parks plan. "It just takes care of a hell of a lot of things that needed doing for a long time," he said.
"Time is running out on people. There is just not going to be that much open space left," Burton said.
Environmentalists are delighted with the bill. Linda Billings of the Sierra Club said the previous House parks subcommittee chairman was "reluctant to move things. He didn't like to get involved in resolving conflicts. We view this as a catch-up process."
But the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is less enthusiastic. A staff aide said the committee would probably approve about half the bill. "No way are we going to approve this without taking a look at it," the aide said. "Burton could give omnibus a bad name."
But Burton has considered Senate committee opposition too, and is calling senators with parks in their states, asking them to pressure the committee to include the parks in the bill. Burton claims the bill that comes out of a House-Senate conference will be a lot more like his bill than the Senate version.
Depsite inclusion of its program, the administration is somewhat worried about the cost of the bill, particularly for authorizations in future years Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus has been meeting with Burton to see if he could scale down the legislation.
Burton did overreach somewhat. He originally tried to buy back the presidential yacht, the Sequola, for $1 million, and make every home of a speaker of the House in the 20th century of historic site in the bill. He had to pull back on those.
But as Interior Committee Chairman Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) said of the bill as it flew through the Interior Committee in just an hour and a half in May, "The train is on the track. It's ready to roll."