Reliance on the Congressional Record (no less) of Oct. 14 (Part II, p. H12970) caused us to state in yesterday's editorial on Congress that the House had accepted "fairer" language on federal funding of abortions in this year's Labor-HEW appropriations bill. That is wrong. The language actually accepted is identical to that in last year's law.
ALTHOUGH THE 95th Congress has decamped, squads of weary staff assistants and clerks are still processing the heaps of legislation that the Senate and House disposed of, one way or another, in those marathon sessions last week. It will be days before everything that was passed has been printed and transmitted to the president. It could be months before ordinary citizens find out some of the things this Congress did. Right now, few legislators themselves have had a chance to learn all the details of the tax bill, the energy package and the hundred-plus other bills they approved in the last frenzied days.
There are obvious hazards in making laws at such a pitch. It enhances the power of those who control major bills - or can obstruct them. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long (D - La.) wound up as usual in the catbird seat. But the Senate also had to accommodate, for one, Sen. Edmund S.Muskie (D-Maine), who was determinded to get the "sunset" measure passed. The frenzy also invited all kinds of wheeling and dealing from the nonstop bargaining that enabled Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Cal.) to wrap up a $1-billion package of park projects, to the attempted parlay on behalf of sugar, steel, copper and textiles interests - plus the state of Israel - described in this paper today.
With mostnormal procedural safeguards cast aside lawmakers must rely even more than normally on their staffs' diligence and their colleagues' good faith. It's a dicey way to operate, and quite accidentprone. One measure passed at 4 a.m. Sunday, for instance, has thrown foreign-service retirement rules into a snarl that will have to be untangled by the next Congress or the courts. Other costly problems are bound to turn up. End-of-session jams test both the stamina of human beings under pressure and the whole system's capacity to absorb and correct mistakes.
Yet the same factors that make such frenzies perilous also make thempractically unavoidable. Legislating by tradeoffs, for instance, promotes delay as everyone tries to hold back cards to play at the best time. And there were special reasons why so much major legislation piled up this year. The Deomcratic congressional leadership and various interest groups started out with large agendas of domestic measures - jobs, urban aid, consumer bills, labor-law reform - that the Republican administrations of the last decade had not been hospitable to. President Carter then added on most of the programs he had promised to advance in four years - and asked Congress to deal with intricate, divisive energy issues besides.
It's worth recalling, too, how much time and energy this Congress devoted to institutiional concerns, from the successful struggles for new ethics codes to the less praiseworthy attempts to dictate foreign policy and bring various agencies to heel. Moreover, the surge of "democracy" on Capitol Hill has made the House, especially, fractious enough to make a muledriver wince. Finally, the political climate shifted during this session as inflation accelerated and curbing government became a paramount concern.
What's surprising about all this is not that Congress got so jammed up but that the results were as good as they were. Congress did support President Carter on the crucial questions of foreign policy - and did, in the end, curb its own extravagant instincts on the water-projects and highways bills. Civil-service reform was a triumph for Congress as well as a presidential victory. The energy package is at least a start. The tuition tax credit plans got shelved. The House accepted rules on Medicaid funding of abortion fairer than the curbs imposed last year.
Perhaps most heartening is the possibility that this year's congressional convulsions may not recur. A few tough subjects, such as urban aid and health-care cost, have been held over, but the 96th Congress's agenda is likely to be lighter overall. Moreover proposals in the House to consolidate subcommittees and improve the flow of legislative traffic are gathering momentum. The popular focus on trimming government reinforces that tendency. All told, the 96th Congress may be somewhat less frenetic than the one that just left town.