FOR ALL the grousing about the lame-duck session, Congress did manage to do some things right -- or, in some cases, not do some things wrong. One example was passage of the bill strengthening protections for migrant farm workers. The measure had been held up in the Senate, but strong pressure from Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan brought action at the last moment. The secretary had less luck, however, as delaying tactics by Rep. Phil Burton (D-Calif.) blocked action on two other important labor measures: one would have cracked down on labor racketeering, the other would have made long overdue reforms in workers compensation for longshoremen and other harbor workers.
After a struggle, the legislators resisted the urgings of the American Medical Association and rejected attempts to make the professions exempt from regulation by the Federal Trade Commission. The AMA did persuade a majority of the House to vote such an exemption, by a 208-195 margin on the crucial vote; those backing the AMA position received campaign contributions of $2.2 million over the past four years, according to Common Cause. But the Senate, following strong leadership by Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), voted the other way, 59- 37, and, in conference, limits on the FTC's authority were removed.
That Senate vote was the only roll call decisively rejecting an item on the list of legislation most deserving to die. But none of the others passed. Some, defeated by inaction, might well have lost if roll calls had been held. These include the attempts to prevent states from regulating pesticides more stringently than the federal government does and to exempt beer wholesalers from the antitrust laws.
They also include the local content legislation sought by the United Auto Workers. The UAW secured a 215-188 victory in the House; to the 215 members who voted for its bill, the union had contributed some $1.3 million in 1979-82, according to Common Cause. But this bill never got close to floor action in the Senate, and even members who support it speak of it with distaste. Evidently they realize that this measure, should it ever be enacted, would cost the nation far more jobs than it ever would produce.
Then there are laws that would have passed if they had come to the floor. The Senate would almost surely have voted a double tax deduction for Apple Computer, a transfer of the Alaska Railroad to the state government and a comprehensive new Shipping Act had not all these measures -- and many more -- been kept off the Senate floor by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).