Congress was in town for two weeks between the convention, but for all the good it did on the year's work-load it might as well have been at the beach.
When House and Seante return after next week's Democratic National Convention there will be seven weeks, including nearly a week lost around Labor Day, before the Oct. 4 deadline for going home to campaign.
This virtually assures a post-election lame-duck session to pass the second budget resolution, at least, and perhaps other leftovers. Leaders have given up hope that Congress could summon the discipline to pass a reasonable budget resolution just before an election.
During the last two weeks the House spent most of its time passing and sending to the Senate five appropriations bills, filled as usual with riders that will take time to thresh out in conference between the two houses.
For instance, legal services attorneys would be forbidden to use funds to promote or defend homosexuality, and the Justice Department would be barred from using funds to initiate school-busing actions, though that could not stop court orders.
The House has approved eight of the 13 appropriation bills. The Senate has acted on none of them. The two biggest -- defense and health and human resources -- have not taken the first step out of a House committee.
Congress in the two-week session also let President Carterhs standby gasoline rationing plan take effect, and hastily approved half a billion dollars for the Export-Import Bank which it had nearly let run out of lending authority in its rush to adjourn for the Republican National Convention. The Senate also took a first step toward setting national policy on disposal of commercial nuclear wastes.
But there was considerable wheel-spinning. The railroad deregulation bill, seemingly on the brink of enactment to take its place beside airline and trucking deregulation, was pulled off the House floor when an amendment was adopted to keep a string on freight rate increases imposed by monopoly railroads.
The Senate worked out a compromise on the Alaska lands bill, but it ran into a filibuster from Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) which put it off until after this recess. A House-Senate impasse over multi-employer pension plan legislation could cause some financially troubled funds to fold and force an undefunded federal agency to assume their obligations.
The reconciliation process by which Congress was to display the ultimate in budget discipline by cutting spending and increasing revenues to make everything come out even got tangled up in the House Rules Committee, and was sidetracked until after the recess. Three Democrats supposedly loyal to the party leadership voted to open the bill to an amendment that could unravel the whole process.
So, when Congress comes back it faces much of the agenda it left behind before the Fourth of July, plus recovering from missteps of the last two weeks.
Besides the 13 appropriations bills that make up the budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Congress must pass a second budget resolution setting spending ceilings.
There are also a number of old programs that need new authorization, and will certainly get it, although they involve some time-consuming questions. Among these are aid to higher education, mass transit and housing. Issues include changes to make students repay loans with interest, permit less than total access to all buses by the handicapped and set up a new housing aid program for middle-income families. Extension of revenue-sharing is moving forward with aid to states stricken out.
A new program to make chemical companies help pay for disposal of hazardous wastes has moved through committe in both bodies. A new youth job training program has been held on the House calendar because of a fight between education lobbies.
The perennial effort to toughen lobby disclosure requirements appears dead again, the victim of fighting over whether disclosure of names violates First Amendment rights or is the only meaningful part of such a bill. But an effort to put enforcement teeth in a 12-year-old law banning racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing has passed the House and has made its way to the Senate floor, essentially in the strong form passed by the House.