When the Senate took up a $13 billion supplemental spending bill June 19, Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.) asked that all other business be set aside for two brief amendments.
One provided $2 million for an energy research center at the University of Utah; the other earmarked $3 million for a radiation clinic at St. George, Utah.
Weicker knew little about the Utah projects and never dealt with them in his appropriations subcommittee. But he also had two bills involving the handicapped that were stalled in the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which happens to be headed by Utah's Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R).
The two men conferred; the rest is legislative history.
The supplemental bill, now awaiting a House-Senate conference, provides the rarest of opportunities for members of Congress: the chance to do something fast.
All year, they slog through tedious hearings and markups trying to get programs authorized and funds appropriated, all the while racing against the legislative clock. It is rather like waiting outside a packed restaurant uncertain whether you'll get in before closing time.
The supplemental appropriations bill, by contrast, is a chance to slip into the kitchen after midnight and load up a plate with fattening fare. It is on a fast track because the money is needed to keep crucial programs going until the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30; the only restraint on lawmakers' appetites is that their colleagues be able to stomach the final product.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education, Weicker was able to spice the bill with a few extras. Not surprisingly, his subcommittee members were first in line.
Weicker agreed to accept several new programs that had been authorized by Congress after this year's budget was adopted. Others, like the Utah projects, were more parochial.
"This was the first opportunity to get it in an appropriations bill," Hatch said. "I asked Lowell to put it in there. As chairman, he knew this was important to me."
Hatch said he made no promises about the legislation for the handicapped, but told Weicker that he has always been a strong supporter of the handicapped.
Noting that parts of his state received heavy doses of fallout from nuclear test explosions in the 1950s and 1960s, Hatch said, "I fought to get the radiation clinic because they do have a higher incidence of cancer in that area. We believe that clinic can do signal work in cancer study and cancer treatment."
Asked whether such projects might conflict with his reputation as a tight-fisted conservative, Hatch said, "It's a very small cost compared to the benefit to society."
Weicker's subcommittee never met to consider the supplemental bill. Instead, the staff worked up a list of proposals -- with the interested senator's name next to each item -- and Weicker decided what was in and what was out. The list had to be revised every few hours.
One subcommittee member, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), obtained $2 million for four experimental trauma-care centers for children. An Inouye aide said the legislation merely urges federal officials to consider placing one of the centers in Hawaii.
But subcommittee officials say it is understood that one trauma center will be in Hawaii and another in Weicker's home state of Connecticut. A third center -- the program was, after all, authorized by the Labor and Human Resources Committee -- will be in Utah.
Other panel members took care of the home folks in a more subtle way: they tinkered with the formulas that determine how much federal money goes to a state.
Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) represents a state with a large number of migrant workers. Florida stands to lose Labor Department training funds under a new law requiring that census data be surveyed to count the number of eligible migrants in each state. Chiles' solution: a "hold harmless" clause that ensures that Florida will get the same amount of aid as last year.
Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) arranged an equally technical change in the National Direct Student Loan program. New Hampshire and four other states were told that they would lose $2 million in student aid next year under a complicated formula involving college costs. Rudman came up with language mandating that none of the states will lose a dime.
Four of the affected states are in New England. The other is Oregon, home state of Republican Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "That certainly made selling our amendment easier," a Rudman aide said.
Hatfield also seized the chance to push his longstanding proposal for an Institute of Peace. The Reagan administration, hardly enthusiastic about the idea, had deferred spending $4 million previously approved for the institute; Hatfield put the money back in the supplemental.
These items were small change compared with the $146 million that Chiles secured for a favorite program, vocational education.
Chiles argued that the program deserved more money because, since 1981, it has been cut sharply by the administration. But he also complained that the growing number of "set-asides" ordered by Congress have taken up more than half the money distributed to the states.
The set-asides read like a list of Democratic Party caucuses: 22 percent of the money is reserved for the economically disadvantaged; 12 percent for adult training; 10 percent for the handicapped; 8.5 percent for single, working parents and homemakers; 3.5 percent for programs that eliminate sex stereotyping; 1.5 percent for Indians and native Hawaiians, and 1 percent for prisoners.
"I don't have a favorite program that I would set aside money for," Chiles said. "I'd rather see more of this money used to give the states an opportunity to determine their needs and priorities.
"Given the political realities of people who try to protect the handicapped and other groups, you end up with all these set-asides. Once you've started one of these, there's no disbanding it."
As if to prove the point, Weicker set aside a third of the new funding for high-technology programs, adult training and community-based groups.
Was Chiles happy with the overall bill?
"I had some other things I would've liked to have gotten funded," Chiles said, but Weicker's staff made clear that "this is the amount he will take. You can either go fight, or pull in your horns and try to convince him next time."
By the time the supplemental bill reached the floor, Weicker looked like a model of restraint.
Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) added $200,000 for the University of Kansas Space Technology Center. Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) directed the Energy Department to start a new program to monitor foreign coal imports. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) added $500,000 for a salmon-hatchery study in the Pacific Northwest. And others added billions of dollars in water projects.
Few exceeded Rudman's three-cushion shot in winning $30 million for the Economic Development Administration. Half the grant is earmarked for new facilities at Dartmouth College in his state; $10 million for renovation of the Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital, favored by Hatfield; and $5 million for railroad work in South Carolina, which was pushed by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.).
Weicker aides crowed that no one on their subcommittee had offered a "hostile" amendment to add money that Weicker had not previously accepted. One aide said of his boss, "Looks like the big liberal kept his bill fairly clean."
The bill contained a new chapter in the continuing saga of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.
When we last left the proposed center, Byrd was asking Vincent T. DeVita Jr., director of the National Cancer Institute, why he had failed to spend money the panel had earmarked for the West Virginia project. DeVita said that he wanted to cooperate, but that the agency was still evaluating the project.
Then things hit a snag. Agency scientists gave an unacceptably low rating to the West Virginia University proposal. Many senators want to approve the project as a retirement gift for former senator Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.), whose wife died of cancer, but Weicker doesn't like to override such "peer review" decisions.
So Byrd devised a new angle. "There's no regional research-and-treatment facility for cancer in Appalachia, and we were concerned that that factor was not given sufficient weight," a Byrd spokesman said.
When the Appropriations Committee took up the spending bill, Byrd offered an amendment ordering the National Cancer Institute "to assess the needs" of Appalachia and report back by Sept. 1. That report should give the panel a rationale to fund the center.
This had been worked out in advance, so Byrd's colleagues were puzzled when he uncorked a long speech in defense of the center. After a few whispered words among staff, however, other senators chimed in to praise Byrd's efforts.
There was a Senate television camera in the hearing room; Byrd was having the scene recorded and making the film available to local stations in West Virginia.