The senior senator from Alaska was nearly quivering with indignation.
"It's high time for the people of Ohio and this country to know what's going on in the Senate," a fuming Republican Ted Stevens told the Senate yesterday.
No big secret.
What's going on is the last week of a pre-election session of Congress and, true to the form of its 96 predecessors, this one is devoting itself assiduously to the delivery of largess and privilege to friendly forces at home.
Stevens was so upset that a favor he sought for his state -- the gift of a railroad -- was being obstructed by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) that he threatened to go to Ohio and campaign against Metzenbaum. Ever the spoilsport, Metzenbaum loved it. He said, "Hell, I may send him the plane ticket."
It is a time when the customary procedures of careful deliberation and genteel courtliness go out the Capitol Hill window. Obscure and controversial bills are called up and passed before an eye can be batted. Legislative IOUs are collected. Goodies flow. Tempers flare.
This time around, the legislative smorgasbord is heavy with goodies for some of America's favorite folk. Before Congress quits this week, it will have tried to hand favors to railroads, timber companies, big farmers, shipping interests, drug companies, banks, brewers and oil and textile producers.
Metzenbaum has vowed to stop most of these by invoking his "hold," a device that can prevent a measure from being debated. "Every bill this senator has a hold on is a giveaway to a special interest," he said yesterday.
Stevens, for example, was trying to get for his state the gift of the federally owned Alaska Railroad. It is goodie worth more than $500 million, which a destitute Uncle Sam would be required to turn over lock, stock and right-of-way to one of the wealthiest states in the union.
Stevens was angry yesterday because Metzenbaum wanted no part of a railroad job. Metzenbaum put a "hold" on the Stevens bill and stood guard on the floor all day to prevent it from being called up for a vote and probable passage.
Following his practice of previous smorgasbords, Metzenbaum had a hold on at least a dozen bills he considered so malodorous that he will seek to prevent them from coming to a vote by objection or filibuster.
"I've made it clear I don't intend to let these things go through," he said during a break yesterday while an ally maintained a watch for any sneaky moves. "I've added three or four tax bills to my list because I don't even know what they contain."
"All of this last-minute business says there is something wrong when they try to pass a lot of legislation in the closing days that couldn't get through with full hearings and the light of day," Metzenbaum added. "The filibuster can be used effectively to protect the interests of the country."
High on Metzenbaum's hit list was a bill designed by Sens. James A. McClure (R-Idaho) and Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) that would relieve timber companies of at least $2 billion in obligations to the government on contracts they hold for cutting federally owned timber.
Over Metzenbaum's objections, the bill was rushed out of Chairman McClure's Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this week. Metzenbaum had tried to amend it to permit the contract bailouts only for small logging firms that could show true distress. The committee rolled over him and he vowed to keep it from passing the Senate.
Others on his list included bills granting antitrust immunity to the National Football League, the shipping industry and the beer industry; special patent protection for drug manufacturers; continued noncompetitive bidding on federal oil shale leases; a dam safety bill that puts repair bills on the taxpayers; changes in the bankruptcy law that Metzenbaum considers unfair to consumers.
One should not, however, get the idea that Metzenbaum has brought the Congress to a halt. Not at all. There still is a flurry of elbows and grasping around the smorgasbord. Dozens of bills, some minor, some major, are moving through the mill this week.
For instance, the Senate, at the urging of Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), yesterday passed a bill allowing textile and clothing manufacturers to recover losses they incurred after the government in 1977 banned the chemical Tris, a toxic product once used in children's apparel as a flame retardant.
And the House approved a bill giving coastal states a share of the royalties the federal government now gets from offshore oil wells. The measure, facing an uncertain future in the Senate, would mean about $300 million to the states.
They're even doing things for the good guys. The House voted to name a postal bulk mail center in Jersey City after Michael McDermott, who was killed in a conveyor belt accident there about three years ago.
And for the flora and fauna, the House yesterday approved a three-year extension of the Endangered Species Act, making no major changes in the law, and sent it to President Reagan for his signature.