It doesn't quite live up to the flash and dash of the crowd from Gucci Gulch, as the wags call the well-heeled petitioners at the House Ways and Means Committee, but the daily gathering outside 1300 Longworth is giving it the old college try.
The congressional cognoscenti know that 1300 Longworth House Office Building is the province of the Agriculture Committee, where elected men frequently gather to debate the merits of arcana such as deficiency payments, marketing loans and acreage bases.
That is the stuff that draws farmers in ball caps and lobbyists whose sartorial habits are more in tune with pipe-rack clothing stores than Italian designers. But since last week, the committee has been plowing different turf and, as a result, a different kind of lobbying crowd has planted itself outside the door.
These are money people -- bankers, insurance executives, computer salesmen. Not only do they frequently fill the corridor outside Room 1300. They jam the hearing room itself and spill over into an adjacent room, where sound is piped in from the main chamber for easy listening. They all are here because they want something. A piece of the action. A break, a tidbit.
A former congressional aide who now works for the teetering Farm Credit System (FCS) put it bluntly: "The sharks are circling." Another executive of a farmer organization observed it this way: "The banks finally have learned where the Agriculture Committee is, to their dismay."
The committee, emitting regular grunts of self-conscious uncertainty about its ability to craft a banking regulation bill, has been working since last week on legislation to prop up the nearly broke FCS with a multibillion-dollar infusion of federal funds (no one yet knows where it will come from) and new rules for the FCS to live by.
Rep. Edward R. Madigan (R-Ill.), ranking Republican on the committee, retains sanity in this atmosphere by exercising his wry sense of humor. In a burst of mirth earlier this week, when the debate was getting zany, Madigan sent a note to an Illinois reporter at the press table. It was written as an amendment and said, in rough paraphrase, "A wet bird will not fly at night."
Which speaks for itself, obviously.
Every day as the committee convenes, an assistant treasury secretary, Charles O. Sethness, takes a seat down front. He smokes cigarettes and frequently shakes his bearded head in undisguised dismay at the panel's insistence on putting things in the bill that the White House doesn't want.
Alongside him are a half-dozen functionaries from the Farm Credit Administration, regulator of the FCS. Behind them is an uncountable phalanx of FCS officials who come on expense account from such venues as Amarillo, Wichita, Columbia and points beyond, to hear the fate of their system debated.
In the hallway outside, one hears such phrases as "our language" and "under our amendment." As committee members enter and leave the hearing room, small squadrons of the financial lobbyists waylay them to whisper advice or to press sheets of paper into their hands. Back in their offices, committee members are flooded with phone calls from farmers, FCS officials and bankers who want this or that in the final bill.
The pressure is intensified by the insistence of House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) that the committee finish its work this week before the summer recess so the reform bill can go to the floor immediately after Labor Day. It is further intensified by the administration's objections to including aid for Farmers Home Administration borrowers and the creation of a second market for farm real estate mortgages.
The committee keeps battling the fine print and through it all, Chairman E (Kika) de la Garza (D-Tex.) maintains an air of optimism about his panel finishing its markup on time. Few of the hallway experts think the chairman will be able to meet his deadline.
Well, sometimes they're right and sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're in another world. Over lunch in the Longworth cafeteria yesterday, one lobbyist gave another his "three criteria" for scoring points at the committee: "It has to be noncontroversial, the administration has to support it . . . and you have to want it." Plainly, this could not have related to an FCS bailout.
They finished lunch and went back to duty stations at Room 1300.