As predictable as the tang of autumn, the mewling of cats and the yapping of dogs rises to high decibel levels on Capitol Hill -- thus the din around this departing 98th Congress.
In the argot, "cats and dogs" are the legislative strays, bills whose sponsors do not push toward a vote until attention spans draw short in the hectic, waning days of a session.
There is a horde of the critters around this year. Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who has made a career of shooting down costly special-interest strays, has put a "hold" on at least two dozen bills that he thinks would cost taxpayers billions if passed.
Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) got into the spirit Monday. Denouncing a bill that could provide U.S. water subsidies to Chevron U.S.A. and a few California farmers, he soared to his oratorical best.
The water subsidies, he said, would provide huge farming profits to the same people who, while decrying deficits, come to Washington to "grab, grab, suck, suck, grab, grab, suck, suck." He vowed to stop the bill if it hit the floor. Metzenbaum also slapped a hold on the bill.
In the House, Republicans demanded a roll-call vote yesterday after Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) tried to get the measure passed on the "suspension" calendar usually reserved for non-controversial bills.
The bill went down in a deluge, 402 to 19.
The critter patrol often unites disparate forces. Last week, for example, Metzenbaum thought he had done the public a favor by forcing cuts in the subsidies that timber companies would get in federal contract bailouts.
He said the changes, finally adopted by the Senate, could save the Treasury more than $1 billion. By Monday, David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, had enlisted in the patrol and one-upped Metzenbaum.
In a letter to House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), Stockman called for the bill's defeat because the administration last year granted contract extensions and interest forgiveness.
"In the press of the last days of the session," Stockman wrote, "it is critical that we all keep an eye out for rough efforts to help particular interests at the expense of the taxpayer."
Stockman said the timber bill would be costly to the government and help some big companies that are far from destitute. The House then passed the bill.
At this time of year, party fealties particularly lose meaning. The administration, for example, is vehemently opposing a number of measures that Republican senators are trying to get passed.
Alaska's GOP senators, Ted Stevens and Frank H. Murkowski, are pushing a proposal to let a Kodiak Coast Guard station give its power-generating equipment to a nearby private utility, which then would sell electricity back to the base. OMB and the General Services Administration call that a $620,000 giveaway.
Democrat Metzenbaum is giving the White House a helping hand on that, having blocked it with a hold, just as he is helping on another administration-opposed measure promoted by Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho).
The administration says that one would provide a $1 milllion "windfall" to farmers and businessmen as part of a settlement of an old claim in which the government said they wrongfully intruded on federal land.
Some other sleeping dogs that Metzenbaum and a few other senators have identified as worthy of watching:
*An innocuous-sounding tax treaty provision that would expand the foreign tax credits available to U.S. companies drilling for oil in the North Sea.
*Democratic-pushed legislation to forgive rural electric cooperatives roughly $8 billion in debt to the government.
*A bill, sponsored by Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) and passed 17 to 1 in the Banking Committee, that would relax certain rules against U.S. firms paying bribes as part of the cost of doing business abroad.