The worms crawled out of H.R. 11409 this week with barely a squiggle.
Wholesale bait companies that import some $8 million a year worth of Canadian night-crawlers will no doubt be disappointed. The bill would have lifted the import duties they have to pay.
But H.R. 11409 is far from dead. The worms have been replaced by opera glasses, binoculars and the like. The American-Japanese Trade Committee, the Japan Binocular Manufacturers Association and allied groups that have been chafing under the 20 percent tariff on heir optical instruments are no doubt delighted. Their sponsor. Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga (D-Hawaii), foresees enactment of the measure in the week ahead.
"I've spoken to all concerned on the House side," be said yesterday. "There's no problem there." But Matsunaga was surprised about what else happened to the bill when he successfully amended it Tuesday at a busy markup session of the Senate Finance Committee.
"I thought the worms were still in there," he said.
They seem to be one of the few special-interest items that aren't still wriggling around, looking for a niche in the nation's tax or tariff laws, as the 95th Congress lumbers toward adjournment. For the moment most eyes are focused on the revenue bill of 1978, now undergoing surgery on the Senate floor.
Most of these special-interest provisions would fail if left to themselves. They need a veto-proof vehicle on which to ride to passage and the president's desk. And right now, the tax bill is the likebest vehicle around.
The tax bill had already been tailored by the Senate Finance Committee to accommodate what Chairman Russell B. Long (D.La), describes as the "kind and considerate" pig farmers and chicken farmers of the nation, not to mention newspaper publishers and a host of other deserving folks.
"The bill even subsidizes the growing of grass," protested Robert M. Brandon, director of Ralph Nader's Tax Reform Research Group. He cited a committee-approved provision, sponsored by Sen. Carl T. Curris (R-Neb.), which would exempt large corporate sod farms with receipts of more than $1 million a year from methods of accounting required of most other large farming corporations.
The committee bill grew thick with amendments last week: investment credits for chicken coops and "unitary hog-raising facilities" (also known as pigpens), tax breaks for the manufacturers of freight cars, special provisions that would permit hospitals, universities and trade associations to set up pension plans benefiting only their top executives, and far more.
With all that behind him, an aide to Long said Thursday, as the bill moved to the floor, "He wants to keep it as clean as he can."
The proposed tax breaks and changes waiting in the wings, like those already in the bill, defy quick summary. More than 40 amendments have already piled up at the desk - some narrow-gauge, some not - and still more are expected.
Sen. Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga), his plan to give a $3-a-barrel tax credit for instance, is thought likely to offer on the porduction of shale oil, an inventive that would be welcomed by companies such as Occidental Petroleum and deplored by environmentalist, who say it could lead to the destruction of huge chunks of virgin wilderness in Colorado.
Other possible offerings include the "Gallo Wine" amendment which would give te numerous heirs of Ernest and Julio Gallo (who are still alive and well) 10 years to pay off estate taxes instead of paying the full amount immediately upon inheritance.
The measure is being pushed by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), amid disclaimers of any connection with the $3,250 he got in his 1974 campaign from Ernest and Julio Gallo. Cranston aides say it will cost the Treasury nothing, but no one seems to know how much it will save the Gallo estate. However, as one of the senator's advisers points out:
"The California wine industry is a billion-dollar-a-year industry, and the Gallos do about 25 to 30 percent of that. There's no question that you're talking about a lot of money."
Even a dollop of "Cargo prefernce" for the American maritime industry is on the agenda, in the form of a proposal by Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) to premit the exportation of Alaskan oil under two central conditions. The Alaskan pipeline would have to be increased to full capacity (2 million barrels a day), and at least 50 percent of the exports would have to be shipped in U.S. flag vessels.
With Long praising the idea, Gravel first offfered his plan the other day as part of the beleaguered energy tax package, but House conferecs refused to permit the exportation of Alaskan germane.
Still othe porposals in the offing range from the "independent local newspaper act," which would allow such newspapers to set up tax-deductible trust funds for the payment of estate taxes, to a little bill that Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) says he might offer on behalf of William H. Sullivan Jr., owner of the New England Patriots.
Unlike longer-established football team owners, who were exempted from a 1976 tax-revision provision, Sullivan cannot depreciate his players, for tax purposes, as generously as can his peers.
"I haven't decided whether to offer it or not," Bayh said yesterday. "I haven't talked to Russell about it. But I don't think the Patriots ought to be treated differently from other football teams."
Some of Long's colleagues on Senate Finance, such as Bob Packwood (R-Ore), said they doubted that the tax bill would run into a special-interest blizzard on the Senate floor, but lobbyists pacing the corridors expressed a different view as the day progressed, with Long suffering several major defeats on multibillion-dollar amendments.
"When Long starts losing, it's a whole new ball game," said one knowledgeable tax lawyer-lobbyist. "He starts doing funny things when he's losing. As for the others, they're like a bunch of kids in school - you do what you can get away with."