Unorthodox fiscal events are occurring in Congress this year, and one of the biggest of them may be the Senate's refusal to take the politically alluring bait of a $2 billion local public works and jobs program.
The usual script in an election year, with a shaky economy and rising unemployment, might call for Congress to rush out with a pump -- primer to get things going again just in the nick of time.
For now at least, that script is out, in part because of the fiscal fear that Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), Budget Committee chairman, has spread among his colleagues.
The House is doing its best to break loose the $2 billion local public workers program, a hotly debated antirecession tool, but the Senate is having none of it this time around.
This sharp division over what's best for the economy has kept House and Senate conferees at odds for nearly a year and blocked approval of a vast economic development bill that once figured prominently in President Carter's urban policy.
Aside from the local public works, the big legislative package carries the authorization for expanded activities of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and regional develompent commissions.
With the president talking about an industrial revitalization program and the Democratic Party platform stressing development, the EDA-regional commission bill figures prominently.
A new portion of the EDA program would authorize direct federal assistance to private businesses to refurbish themselves and bolster economically depressed areas.
But the big hangup in the long-stalled House-Senate conference involves the $2 billion authorization for a standby public works scheme that would be triggered by unemployment increases.
The House, led by Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.), is insisting admantly that the $2 billion program be adopted. The Senate, led by Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.), is just as adamantly against the idea.
Conferees met briefly this past week to try again to break their impasse. They agreed to reconvene in a week or two, after Carter has outlined his own new economic proposals.
Congressional sources indicate the deadlock is so serious and apparently so unbreakable that the rest of the extensive EDA development package is threatened.
Without congressional reauthorization, the agency would continue with its funding and program levels of three years ago -- minus the new role envisioned for it on the revitalization front.
In a way, the stalemate over local public works (LPW) involves a hardnosed game of legislative "chicken" between the conferees, with each side waiting for the other to blink.
The conferees met last December. The House bill contained the $2 billion works plan; the Senate's did not. The deadlock was on.
Roe did not reconvene the conference until last month, despite producing earlier in the year from EDA and the White House. Some speculated that Roe was waiting for national unemployment figures to rise to a point that would make the House plan more palatable to the Senate.
The figures rose, but the wait was unproductive. Randolph, Sen. Quentin N. Burdick (D.-N.D.), and other Senate conferees made it plain last week they won't move.
The senators think local public workers programs take too long to have a salutary impact on recession. They also contend the bulk of the money goes for materials rather than salaries for jobless workers.
The House thinks just the opposite. Roe, voice rising and face florid, bellowed at the senators last week that he would "not bend to EDA or anyone else" over the efficacy of the program.
"We are beseeching the Senate to accept local public works," he said. "We create jobs, which are real things; it is not more boondoggling or budget-busting."
Randolph and Burdick noted that the White House opposes the House approach, but beyond that the real obstacle is Hollings.
Hollings has cautioned the Senate conferees that there is no money for the LPW program and he will make certain there is none even if the Senate authorizes the house plan.
The Senate even refuses to consider the political cosmetic, suggested by some in the House delegation, of authorizing the plan even though it might never be funded.
What if Carter's economic message doesn't give the conferees a way out?
"Then we'll get busy," said Rep. Harold T. (Biz) Johnson (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Public Works Committee.