For a few hours Monday morning, Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, dropped out of sight.
Even his aides could not find him, but they thought they knew why he had disappeared. "Tomorrow is CR Day," one said.
CR Day, which was celebrated in traditional fashion, is the day when the House throws together into one huge piece of legislation -- the CR, for continuing resolution -- all the appropriations bills it has failed appropriately to pass.
In theory, the continuing resolution is a simple mechanism that keeps the money flowing and the federal government clicking.
In practice, however, it has become much more than that -- a policy document that embraces issues as large as congressional pay raises and breeder reactors and as small as the relocation of customs agents from one Texas town to another and the improvement of the Delmarva fox squirrel habitat.
As CR Day approaches, Conte and Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, are bombarded with requests from their colleagues to include small items of the latter sort in the continuing resolution, which explains why Conte may have made himself scarce Monday.
"The last time around," one of his aides explained, "the poor guy was loaded down with so much junk in his pockets he couldn't walk."
The continuing resolution crafted for this lame-duck session was divided into two parts: funds in lieu of all of the 1983 appropriations bills that had not cleared Congress, plus $5.4 billion tacked on by the Democratic leadership for what they called "Meeting Our Economic Problems with Essential Productive Jobs."
There were so many little projects for so many members in the second part of the resolution that Whitten saw little need to take care of special concerns in the appropriations section, but still a few were slipped in.
In the appropriation for Labor and Health and Human Services, for instance, the resolution directed that $3 million go to the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, an unbuilt shrine of learning for the former House speaker from Oklahoma.
When asked why this was placed in the continuing resolution, an Appropriations staff member explained: "Because Carl Albert wants it there, and he's a former speaker. We should take care of former speakers. You can't expect the Senate to put it in."
Under the heading "Customs Service," the report on the resolution took care of another matter of pressing importance. It stated: "The committee recognizes the importance of import specialists presently stationed at San Antonio and directs that any plans to relocate import specialists to Laredo not be implemented."
This was a small victory for Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), an Appropriations Committee member who had a few constituents back home grumbling about Customs Service plans to ship them down to Laredo.
The jobs section of the bill, which President Reagan has suggested he will veto if it ever reaches his desk, included something for every congressional district in the country.
The money would go to such diverse enterprises as "snagging and clearing" Cow Castle Creek in South Carolina, raceway rehabilitation in Colman, Calif., security fencing in Alamosa, Colo., and mitigation of shore damages in Presque Isle, Mich.
Whitten, who is considered one of the most powerful and sometimes least intelligible members of Congress, was assigned the task of championing this many-splendored measure in committee last Friday and on the House floor yesterday.
"We have all the signs that preceded the last depression," said Whitten, who came to Washington when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. "We're on the edge of it."
Whitten avoided going through the jobs provisions in great detail, leaving it to Conte, who sliced it up as "ripe and stinking with pork."
"There is $50 million in here for a program called the SBA National Resources Developments Grants," Conte raged.
"I have served on the Small Business Committee for 24 years, and I have never heard of that program. Do you know what it is supposed to do? Provide tree-planting services. Christmas trees, I'm sure."
He moved down the list of projects, one by one, finally reaching those to be carried out under the auspices of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation.
"In case you are wondering how many jobs per dollar you are creating, take a look at the Bureau of Reclamation... where you will be spending $21 million to create 434 jobs -- at a cost of $49,000 per job.
"At $49,000 a job, the next thing you know those 434 workers will think they work for the House of Representatives."