This is the story of a struggling little college in the Virgin Islands and a senator's efforts to give it a helping hand.
Last Christmas, the College of the Virgin Islands paid a $2,000 speaking fee to Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) and covered round-trip air fare for him and his wife. The Federal Data Corp. of Bethesda provided free lodging for the Johnstons and their children while they were in St. Thomas.
Johnston, a member of the Senate subcommittee that oversees territorial affairs, is known widely on Capitol Hill as a friend of the Virgin Islands and has made similar speeches at the college in previous years.
In the continuing resolution that provides fiscal 1985 funds for several federal agencies, Johnston persuaded the Senate to agree last week to add $500,000 for the college to establish a Caribbean Cultural Center. There was no debate, but Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho) cautioned others to "restrain their appetites to add more money here."
The conferees working out differences between the House and Senate versions of the spending bill took McClure to heart, just a bit. They added language making the college's appropriation contingent on its coming up with $250,000.
Johnston, reached in Louisiana yesterday, said, "It was a dumb thing of me to put the amendment in like that. Of course, there was no quid pro quo, and it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would make a connection. But it's a legitimate question, and I'm sorry I put my friends in that position."
But Del. Ron de Lugo (D-Virgin Islands) put it this way: "Let's forget about the $500,000. Bennett Johnston cares about the offshore territories. He is one of the few members who has really taken an interest in these areas."
Despite Congress' calls for making the nation's defenses lean, mean and cost-efficient, conferees on the defense authorization bill overruled a comptroller general who had ruled that only the heads of federal departments could have home-to-office chauffeur services.
The bill provides that eight top Defense Department officials may continue to get the federal government to give them free rides. They are the deputy secretary, the two under secretaries, plus the chairman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
These final days of a congressional session inevitably turn into Christmas-like affairs when legislators look for last-ditch chances to send a gift to the home folks.
The supplemental appropriation for fiscal 1984 provided $42 million for the government to buy homes, businesses, buildings and land in and around Centralia, Pa., and neighboring Byrnesville, which are plagued by fires in abandoned underground coal workings.
The Interior Department balked, insisting that the towns had to put up 10 percent of the cost to get the rest of the money. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), however, got the Senate to amend its highway bill, exempting the towns from the matching rule.
Remember all the yapping about free pet care for the military? That was supposed to stop with the imposition of a $10-per-visit fee for military veterinary services. Well, the defense conferees decided to delay that fee for another year while a study is made. The thinking is that $5 might be more in line with costs.
All over Washington heads have shaken and tongues clucked over the inability of Congress since last week to settle its pending business and adjourn.
The last-week finagling inspired Rep. Gerry E. Sikorski (D-Minn.) to compare the federal deficit to Gertrude McFuzz, a bird in a Dr. Seuss story that grew more of the beautiful feathers she coveted by eating magical berries.
"Gertrude McFuzz is like our federal deficit," Sikorski said. "We gobble down more and more federal spending until we can not fly, run or walk."
In that McFuzzian vein, the Senate locked itself into a knot yesterday over how to divvy up revenues from offshore federal oil and gas leases.
Under pending legislation, 30 states, including those around the Great Lakes, and five territories, would share in the receipts. But the debate found coastal states senators arguing over each state's share.
The administration has promised to veto whatever they come up with.