They held a political fish fry in the House yesterday and Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey's (R-Calif.), who didn't like the menu, got dipped in batter.
Over McCloskey's heated objections, the House passed two bills designed to give a nice election-year pat on the pocket book to the American fishing industry.
The main course was a fisheries promotion act, changed so drastically during the previous two days that some House members clearly were uncertain what they were voting on. It passed, 300 to 97.
The appetizer was a measure promoted by Northwest legislators to bolster salmon and steelhead fishermen in their corner of the country. It passed by voice vote.
The big flap involved the fisheries promotion bill, which is designed in part gradually to remove foreign fishermen from the American 200-mile territorial zone and bolster the U.S. industry.
When the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee approved the bill in June, it drew strong protests from McCloskey, who called it a conglomerate of special interest goodies.
The Carter administration also had objections to the bill, but after weeks of negotiations with Rep. John B. Breaux (D-La.), agreed to a compromise version last Friday -- in time to allow Breaux to call the bill to a vote this week.
McCloskey, like Breaux a member of the committee, said he could not get a copy of the revised bill until a few hours before the vote that had been scheduled for Monday. He became furious upon learning that the new bill contained at least one major provision that already had been rejected in committee, subsidizing agri-business companies for onshore sea products plants.
More copies of the bill became available by yesterday, but by then the measure had changed again -- Breaux having removed the subsidy provision for the producing plants.
McCloskey charged yesterday that eight of 10 major provisions in the bill had been altered in the previous four days and that the House should not rush to a vote. Several members spoke yesterday in favor of portions that, unbeknownst to them, were no longer in the bill.
McCloskey, the man who blew the whistle on his committee's controversial cargo-perference bill in 1977, charged that presidential politics again had played a role in the White House decision to accept the Breaux bill.
He noted that President Carter was in the state of Washington yesterday "to discuss the great contributions of the Washington congressional delegation."
The other key supporter of the fisheries bill is Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.), in a tight reelection fight, who also has pushed the salmon-steelhead measure through the Senate.
Although substantially different, both the House and Senate versions of the salmon-steelhead bill provide for federal aid and federal purchase of fishing vessels from economically hard-pressed fishermen.
Breaux's assurance to the House yesterday that the fisheries promotion bill would be accepted by the Senate without the usual conference led to speculation that he also will accept Magnuson's more generous approach to helping the salmon-steelhead fishermen.
The importance of the legislation to the fishing industry is underscored by campaign contributions on file at the Federal Election Commission. The bulk of at least $54,000 of industry money given this year has gone to key committee members.
Breaux, head of the fisheries subcommittee, was the leading House recipient, with $4,150 -- about one-sixth of the $25,675 that went to House members.
About half of the House contributions went to 15 members of Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Half of $22,000 given to senators was for six members of the Commerce Committee, which oversees fisheries legislation.