During the chaotic final weeks of a congressional session, seasoned lobbyists rush their favorite bills through the legislative maze. This year is no exception. After priming the legislative pump through political action committees for eight years, industry groups are poised for a deluge. Not content with the financial bonanza in the tax and budget bills, they are scrambling to extract individually tailored subsidies and special exemptions from the law. Consider these arcane bills, most of which have pssed the Senate, and are waiting to slip through the House, only to pickpocket taxpayers and consumers:
* The Drug Makers' Bill. While legislators are willing to take a stand against corporate lobbies on large, visible issues like the Clean Air Act, they often cave on the pet projects of a particular industry. That's what happened when 12 of 15 members of the New Jersey delegation obliged the drug companies headquartered in their state by voting for the "Patent Term Restoration Act." (Only one of the 15 voted against: Rep. James J. Howard) This bill would drastically increase the price of prescription drugs and reduce the availability of their inexpensive generic cousins by giving the drug companies an extra seven years of monopoly protection. On such an obscure bill, members are unlikely to hear much from back home. Do the jobless citizens of South Succotash know about such giveaways?
* The Pajama Makers' Bill. HR 823 would give a $56 million subsidy to approximately 100 pajama makers. At this time of budget austerity, these manufacturers want taxpayers to pay for pajamas they couldn't sell in 1977 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the cancer-causing chemical Tris as a flame retardant on children's sleepwear. They argue the government should pick up the tab since the government imposed the ban. However, the pajama makers were free to choose among several flame retardants, but selected Tris without adequately testing it for safety.
Sen. Strom Thurmond rewarded this negligence by ushering the bill through the Senate; it now is pending on House Judiciary Chairman Peter Rodino's desk. President Reagan refuses to oppose this bail-out, not wanting to step on Thurmond's toes.
The Bankers' Bill. Banks, finance companies, and other creditors want the House Judiciary Committee to pass a bill that would require most individual debtors -- but not business debtors -- to pay back their debts even after they declare bankruptcy. This bill would overturn the central concept of American bankruptcy law -- that a person who goes bankrupt can start over, without any assets but without any liabilities either. Led by Sears, Roebuck (now in the credit business) and the American Bankers Association, these corporations have persuaded 269 members to cosponsor their bill. For 255 of them, $700,000 in campaign contributions helped clarify the issue. This meager investment will yield rich dividends for creditor institutions if the bill passes.
* The Bribery Bill. Some of the country's leading corporations, including general Mills, United Technologies and Whirlpool, are hard at work to water down the anti-bribery statute, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Afraid of strict enforcement and possible fines for shelling out foreign bribes, these companies have slipped the bill through the Senate and are itching to strike a compromise with their nemsis in the House, Rep. Timothy Wirth.
* The Doctors' Bill. The American Medical Association hopes to win a vote in the House next week allowing selected professions immunity from prosecutions for boycotts, price-fixing, fraud, and deception. Lawyers, dentists and even veterinarians have joined to push this one through. After contributing more than $2 million to members of Congress during the last few years and garnering 219 cosponsors (213 of whom received AMA or American Dental Association money) the AMA and its cohorts are confident of victory.
The doctors are not the only ones standing in line for an antitrust exemption in the next few weeks. The maritime industry, the beer bottlers, convicted price- fixers and even the National Football League all are pressing for immunity from the laws other businesses must obey.
The Big Business Bill. The granddaddy of the special interest bills now pending in the House is the innocuously titled Regulatory Reform Act. More appropriately dubbed the "Regulatory Deform Act," this bill is a backdoor tactic sponsored by and for the Business Roundtable, representing such corporate giants as IBM, Dupont and Union Carbide. Knowing they could not muster the political support to cripple the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration or other consumer health and safety agencies directly, these groups are salivating over the prospect of grinding the already slow bureaucratic process to a halt with unprecedented layers of red tape, litigation and congressional veto. The bill would give David Stockman's OMB a stranglehold on health, safety and environmental rules and impose 32 procedural steps for a rule to maneuver instead of the current six.
Of course, narrowly framed special interest bills are nothing new in Congress. What is new are the increasingly sophisticated schemes, clever packaging and bold tactics their proponents use, judiciously coordinated with the distribution of PAC money. PAC money dispensed by a well- organized economic interest can be used with surgical precision to boost made-to- order legislation. Unless Congress decides to reconsider public financing of congressional campaigns, such bills will only proliferate. At our expense, the doctors, and lawyers, and pajama makers, and beer bottlers, and banks, and druggcompanies will harvest yet another bumper crop.