History may look back one day and shake its tousled head in some amazement, but there'll be no denying that there was a 97th Congress and that in its haste to adjourn it did some odd things.
Take, for example, that multibillion-dollar continuing appropriations resolution that has stood the House and Senate on their collective noggins for days.
The fine print contains a spending authorization for a federal irrigation project in Nebraska called the O'Neill unit. Earlier this month, by 101 votes, the House moved to stop the expenditure of $500,000 on O'Neill.
The Senate, however, did not enact a similar ban. So when the measure went to conference over the weekend, the House delegates took a bath. Conferees came out with a bill that ignored the House position and gave a green light to the project.
And this is where the $369-million O'Neill unit becomes very, very interesting. The irrigation water from this Department of Interior project will be used on about 300 farms, which means each will be subsidized to the tune of around $1.2 million.
Farmers will use the water to grow more corn. On the same day the conferees were voting for agricultural abundance, the Senate was desperately trying to find a way to pass a bill allowing the government to give American farmers surplus grain in return for not planting crops next year.
The Department of Agriculture wants to set up the payment-in-kind (PIK) scheme to unload the huge surpluses that are depressing prices and adding to the budget costs of federal farm programs. The surplus includes several billion--that's right, billion -- bushels of corn that nobody wants.
Rep. Don H. Clausen (R-Calif.), a lame duck, appeared briefly yesterday on the Senate floor. He pressed his hands prayerfully before his chest and bowed. Then he threw an A-OK sign, forming a circle with thumb and index finger. Then he flashed a thumbs-up and vanished out the door.
Lame duck or not, Clausen has reason to feel pretty good, because he's going but he won't be forgotten. Pending in the Senate is a House-passed bill to name a federal fish hatchery after him.
Earlier, he got Congress to agree to carve about half an acre out of the Redwood National Forest in his district so that the Smith River Fire Protection District can build a firehouse. And Sunday he was able to win Senate approval of a bill that would exempt two paper-pulp mills in his district from discharge requirements of the federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Appropriate to the season, that same continuing resolution had a few of the telltale signs -- baubles, glitter, spangles, tinsel -- and sure enough, it was looking more and more like a Christmas tree.
First, the good news. The House-Senate conferees got real tough with the Pentagon. On the other hand, they couldn't resist some add-ons designed to help a legislator with a pressing need.
They denied funding for "environmental and morale leave" for the spit-and-polish crowd. What ticked the legislators off was their finding that U.S. military people stationed in Bermuda and Barbados get cost-free transportation back to the United States for "rest and relaxation" leave (R&R, in the parlance). Review the program before you submit a new budget request, the Pentagon was instructed.
But these things balance out. Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) dredged up $1 million for a little navigation-channel widening on the Warrior River in Alabama. Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) got a hunk of the New Jersey Turnpike incorporated into the Interstate Highway System. Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) got language to free shippers of broken, crushed and powdered glass from federal regulation. Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont.) landed a "keeper"--$243,000 for a fish hatchery in his state.
Pending in the Senate was a bill to create a Senate Productivity Award. Don't even ask what that's about. And there was still another lurking out there -- a bill for $60,320 to buy 104,000 full-color 1983 wall calendars from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. No Pecksniff dares stop this one. The calendars are for senators to give to constituents.
Several hundred Alaska natives in tiny Angoon Village, a subsistence community on Admiralty Island, think their U.S. senator, Ted Stevens (R), was trying to throw them a curve.
Angoon and the Sierra Club have a suit pending in U.S. District Court here challenging the transfer of 23,000 acres on Admiralty Island, a national monument, to the Shee Atika natives, who are based in Sitka.
Stevens got the Senate Appropriations Committee to adopt language reaffirming the legitimacy of the Shee Atika claim, even though the issue is pending before the court. Shee Atika intends to cut timber on its claim, which Angoon villagers fear will destroy the pristine hunting and fishing area that sustains them.
Angoon was afraid that the Stevens language would make its lawsuit academic. Enter Reps. Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.) and Les AuCoin (D-Ore.), in the House-Senate conference on the stopgap funding bill. They got the measure altered with wording designed to keep the suit alive.
Speaking of timber and Alaska, two of the controversial late-hour bills hovering around the Senate appeared yesterday to be caught in the trap of time, perhaps so ensnarled that they won't see daylight.
Stevens has drawn up a new bill aimed at giving the federally owned Alaska Railroad to his state. Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) has steadfastly refused to allow an earlier version to pass, contending it was a "giveaway" of a valuable property. Metzenbaum was reported unyielding even on the new, more restrictive version.
And Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) apparently has thrown in the towel on his efforts to guide through a bill that could excuse timber companies in the Northwest from more than $2 billion in tree-cutting contract obligations. Resistance by a divided industry, the White House and some environmentalists -- not to mention another Metzenbaum roadblock--have done it in.
In that crazy-quilt parliamentary tangle over the highway bill last night, senators tabled an amendment by Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), but only after Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) vigorously worked the floor and persuaded five senators to switch their earlier votes. That doomed Bumpers' amendment.
He took it good-naturedly, however, telling the Senate, "Dr. Carey is in his office for anybody whose arm is out of its socket."
Dr. Freeman Carey is the Senate's official physician, expert -- presumably -- in treating dislocations, logorrhea and other legislative maladies.
Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) voted against final adoption of the continuing resolution, complaining about the "slipshod, slapdash manner in which Congress now handles the appropriations process."
"This hectic, frantic, helter-skelter way of doing the nation's business is unacceptable. To rush through, on a last-minute basis, the bill which funds 78 percent of appropriated monies makes a mockery of the Senate tradition as 'the world's greatest deliberative parliamentary body.' This year's continuing resolution stands as a monument to non-deliberation."
But toil they must, frantic or not, and the House and Senate tax-writing committees still were busy last night trying to work out differences in a batch of tariff measures that had the provocative smell of a kitchen delight.
There was, for example, a proposal to relax duties on carrots imported from Mexico and Canada, and a suspension of duties on hot red peppers.
Does Dr. Carey treat dyspepsia?