THE COUNTRY'S basic housing legislation is apparently going to be rewritten in that gigantic budget reconciliation bill about which we've been telling you. Television licensing standards are sharply changed in the Senate's version of the same reconciliation bill. In the House, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats is attempting to use the reconcilation bill as a vehicle to overturn much of the last administration's energy policy.
Each of these examples deserves careful attention on its own terms. But they are only a random sample among literally hundreds of substantial changes -- many of them only tenuously related to money and the budget -- that are now emerging in this bill. We offer this observation chiefly as a warning and a lament, for the process has probably advanced too far to be reversed.
President Reagan is pressing forcefully and effectively for enactment of the bill by the end of next month. Debate will necessarily be brief and superficial. Opportunities for floor amendment will be, at least in the House, few or none at all. But the scope of this bill, as it is now taking shape, is staggering.
First example: the House declined to adopt the sweeping changes in community development and housing program that were sought by the administration, although not strictly needed for budget savings. The House was not too high-minded, however, to slip in the reauthorization for FHA mortgage insurance and other expiring programs with the thought of avoiding a messy floor fight later in the year. The Senate Banking Committee retaliated by incorporating in the reconciliation bill all of the substantive changes sought by Mr. Reagan. Then it added a few items of its own, like the termination of housing aid to cities with rent control. But it omitted the program reauthorizations, needed this year, to gain leverage in the House-Senate conference that looms ahead.
Second example: the Senate Commerce Committee has written the entire reauthorization for the FCC into the reconciliation bill. It has also included several bills extending the terms of radio and television broadcasting licenses, and narrowing the legal grounds for challenging license renewals.
Third example: the House Commerce Committee is split down the middle, unable to choose between two competing budget proposals. One of them, advanced by a conservative coalition, would repeal both the law to ban natural gas as a boiler fuel, and the highly intricate Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act. Reconsidering the first one is a good idea. But repealing both, without full hearings or debate, is most emphatically a bad idea.
President Reagan is prepared to run large legislative risks to achieve the sharp changes that he seeks in the budget. But Americans, for years to come, will find themselves stumbling on now unnoticed parts of this bill, some of them very important. It will contain more than any one person will be able fully to grasp. By overloading this giant bill, Congress is now very close to losing control of its contents altogether.