Nearly every day for two weeks Rep. Daniel A. Mica (D-Fla.) sat in the House chamber, waiting to shepherd the 1986 State Department authorization through debate and final passage.
And every day consideration of the bill was postponed as the House erupted in dispute over Indiana's 8th Congressional District.
"Some years we have a slow start," Mica said with seeming resignation last week, as the House finally began debating his bill.
In general, lawmakers said last week, this seems to be one of the slowest-starting congressional sessions in recent years. More than four months into the 99th Congress, only a handful of bills have been brought to the floor and most House committees are just beginning serious markups.
There have been some major floor battles, but they have revolved mostly around issues such as MX missile funding and aid to Nicaraguan rebels that had been left over from last year or, in the Indiana case, from the last election.
In four months, the House has approved a farm-credit relief bill, which was vetoed by President Reagan, African famine relief, long-delayed highway legislation and some small authorization bills.
"I can't think of a more slowly moving House," said Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.), adding that the Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, has held a few hearings and passed some minor measures.
"We had our official photo taken," he said. "That's the only accomplishment so far."
Lawmakers and congressional officials attribute the slow start to several factors, including:
* An unusually high level of partisan hostility.
There were delays in forming committees because of arguments over how many seats each party should get. Republicans staged walkouts of a few committees, including Judiciary and Energy and Commerce, to protest the ratios.
Republicans have been so angry about the outcome of the Indiana election that they have been tying up the House with parliamentary maneuvers and procedural votes.
"Partisanship has caused the process to almost grind to a halt," said Rep. William B. Richardson (D-N.M.).
* A lack of aggressive direction from the White House, particularly on budget issues.
"The White House was slow in getting out of the starting block," said one Republican House official.
* Strong sentiment among the House Democratic leadership that the House should not act on next year's budget until the Republican-controlled Senate has acted.
Thus the focus will be on the GOP and Reagan, and they will get the flak for unpopular cuts made to reduce the deficit. The Senate began voting on the budget last week.
"Why should we get in the middle of that fight between the Senate Republicans, the White House and the House Republicans?" asked Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.)
The House Budget Committee was to have voted weeks ago on a resolution setting spending guidelines for the committees, but has delayed action until the Senate completes its work on the budget.
As a result, many committees have held off marking up legislation that authorizes spending for their parts of the budget.
Democrats on the Agriculture Committee, for instance, decided last week against making decisions on spending levels for farm and other programs under their purview until the Senate moves, committee member Coelho said.
"We're in a transition period to some extent," said a Democratic aide. "It's an uneasy period where it's not clear that the president's proposals have support, but no one is willing to step into the breach, so the committees have held back."
However, congressional staffers said last week that the authorizing committees are expected to meet the May 15 deadline for sending their bills to the floor.
But, lawmakers said, broader trends are at work, as well.
"It's our contention that this place is just gradually becoming inoperative because of too little cooperation between the two parties' leaderships and with the Senate," said a Republican aide.
"I think that it's not just this session," said Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) "The trend toward a slower starting Congress began a few years ago" with Reagan's election in 1980 on promises to cut the budget and reduce government, which has meant fewer legislative initiatives.
But this year, Panetta said: "It appears the trend is getting worse. This may be the session that marks the low point in that trend."