The Senate yesterday voted to go home as soon as possible rather than stay and fight indefinitely over the Humphrey-Hawkins employment bill and other controversial "reform" measures that had threatened to hold up Saturday's scheduled adjournment of Congress.
The Senate got the opportunity to cut and run in a cloture vote on the pending tax bill, which had become a vehicle for the proverbial raft full of extraneous measures, including Humphrey-Hawkins. In a surprise for that measure's friends and a great many other headcounters hovering around the Senate in these busy closing days of the session, the vote to cut off debate and drop all extraneous amendments carried 62 to 28
Until that vote at 4 p.m. yesterday, senators and administration officials alike were wondering how the Saturday dealing for adjournment could possibly be met. The cloture vote now makes a Saturday adjounment look relatively simple.
But that could mean sacrificing the so-called "full-employment" bill, Sen. Edmund S. Muskie's (D-Maine("sunset" legislation, the administration's hospital cost containment bill and others measures senators were hoping to tack the tax-cut bill, a tempting vehicle for any legislation since both houses agree they can't leave town without passing it.
Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.VA.) promised to bring up Humphrey-Hawkins and try to bring up Muskie's "sunset" bill before adjournment. But both seem vulnerable, particularly Humphrey-Hawkins, whose opponents have announced their intention to filibuster it.
The Muskie bill would require the Congress to reauthorizeall major government programs every 10 years or allow them to die.
Backers of Humphrey-Hawkins, now a diluted version of its former self, had high hopes that it would reach President Carter's desk as a rider to the tax bill, its backers reckoned, the measure could withstand a Senate filibuster and win 60 votes to cut off debate.
Now it will have to stand alone, and although the bill's supporters still say they have 60 votes to stop prolonged debate, Senate sources aren't conviced. In many minds the bill is classified as the sort of "liberal spending measure" that the electorate is allegedly rebelling against this year, and many Senate aides and members doubt it can now win approval in the last days of the session.
Before yesterday's votes, administration lobbyists and supporters of Humphrey-Hawkins reckoned that since there were more than 50 senators supporting their bill, proponents of cutting off debate on the tax bill (by then including Humphrey-Hawkins as a potential nongermane amendment) would be unable to muster the 60 votes they needed. This reasoning proved faulty, however, to the surprise of those who had subscribed to it.
"It was a simple vote to adjourn, nothing more than that," observed an aide to Muskie, who lost his best shot at a vote on the "sunset" legislation with the Senate's vote to impose cloture. Many in the Capitol agreed that the urge to end the session was the strongest single emotion at work among the senators yesterday.
It was also a victory for Sen. Russell B. Long(D.La), chairman of the Finance Committee and floor manager of the tax bill. In debate before the cloture vote, Long warned that "The Oct. 14 adjournment date is out" if the Senate would not agree to consider only the tax bill and German amendments to it - that is, amendments to the actual provisions of the bill, and not wholly extraneous riders such as Humphrey-Hawkins.
As the Senate apparently arranged its affairs for an orderly adjournment at the weekend, the House took the day off yesterday. It will be in session today and tomorrow, but there will be no votes, allowing members to stay away and campaign if they like. The full House must stand for reelection in four weeks.
The House has several dozen measures pending that it will have to act on before adjournment, but congressional sources say that the better disciplined House will have no serious trouble completing its work.
Administration officials, however, are concerned at the strength of liberal opponents of the natural gasprice deregulation bill, who intend to challenge a decision by the Rules Committee to tie the gas bill into a package of energy measures to be considered together by the House. The liberals hope to break the gas measure out of the package and defeat it separately, and they have strong support for this plan, though not yet a majority, according to informed sources.
Otherwise there appears to be no "must" legislation in either house orin conference that is likely to prove so controversial that it could delay adjournment. Probably the biggest challenge to be faced is the tax conference that will have to produce a single measure from the widely differing Houseand Senate tax bills.
Both houses also must act on a number of appropriations bills or conference reports and a continuing resolution to finance those government programs for which no new appropriations have been passed in this session.