Congress adjourned for six weeks yesterday to go home and try to get itself reelected. It will come back to settle the budget and take other tough votes it didn't want to face before election.
Both houses left on rather sour notes. The Senate wound up at 2 a.m. yesterday after passing a supplemental unemployment compensation bill so loaded with restrictive amendments it knew the House would not accept the measure. That proved correct, so the measure to help nearly half a million people who have used up their jobless benefits will have to wait for the two houses to return and settle their differences. The House quit yesterday afternoon after voting for the first time in 121 years to expel a member -- Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.), who got caught in the Abscam net.
The lame duck session beginning Nov. 12 will be the first in a presidential year in more than 30 years. It will include a considerable number of members who won't be returning in January, some of them casting votes after having been repudiated by the voters. If, in addition, the presidency is about less conducive to rational legislative action. For example, this would be certain to intensify Democratic efforts to confirm -- and Republican efforts to block -- pending nominations to the federal bench, the Synthetic Fuels Corp., and other important posts. That would extend to other legislation as well.
Every time Congress goes on recess the list of things left undone seems to get longer, but many are nearly through the legislative pipeline and will either make it quickly or be left to die.
This was to be the year of the balanced budget. It died in the recession, but the effort to hold down spending and increase revenue has consumed a great deal of time and effort and produced frustration and short tempers. The whole budget process -- reconciliation, second budget resolution and the appropriation bills which are the actual budget -- is waiting for Congress to return. The entire government is operating on a stopgap spending resolution.
In the energy field, President Carter got two of his three big request -- a tax on profits from decontrolled domestic crude oil and a giant program to promote production of alternatives to foreign oil. The House rejected and apparently has killed a proposal to put big energy projects on a fast track, permitting override of other laws if necessary to get started quickly.
No new domestic programs that cost money were enacted. But in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Congress stepped up military spending and expressed its desire to resume production of nerve gas.
The drive to deregulate industries that have come under tight federal control over the last half century took a leap forward as trucking, railroads and banking joined deregulated airlines. This doesn't cost money.
A number of big federal aid programs are up for extension. Some have been extended and virtually all eventually will be. Despite their huge and growing costs, they have each produced a constituency that will not be denied. Higher education and housing and community development authorizations cleared Congress last week. Mass transit, airport development and revenue sharing are pending. The only likely casualty is revenue sharing for the states, which are generally better off fiscally than the federal government.
Some other pending bills seem certain to make it through when Congress returns, including extra unemployment compensation if the need is still there and a measure making it a crime to identify intelligence agents. Others appear clearly dead, including lobby disclosure, sunset and a new child health assistance program.
Some tough high-stakes bills could go either way. The Alaska lands bill -- called the conservation bill of the century -- has been the subject of intense House-Senate negotiation which hasn't yet found a solution. Superfund legislation to clean up oil and chemical spills and abandoned chemical dumps made it through the House but is thought to face tougher going in the Senate against industry lobbying. Fair housing -- the most important civil rights bill in 15 years -- has been ready for a Senate vote for nearly two months but may fall victim to a post-election fillibuster.
Others on the maybe list are revision of the federal criminal code, a bill to give coal slurry pipelines authority to cross the property of railroads which fear them as competition, revision of reclamation laws which are violated by all big western farms using cheap federal water. And Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-WVa.) has talked of taking up a tax cut bill in a calmer post-election atmosphere.