Pentagon to forgo budget 'extras'; lobbies gird for battle
President Carter has precipitated one of the greatest Capitol Hill lobbying battles of all time. His proposal to cut almost $14 billion out of the federal budget has alerted commercial and special-interest groups whose representatives in Washington outnumber members of Congress by 10 to 1.
Whether legislative ranks will hold to support a balanced budget remains to be seen.
Anticipating the struggle, which could become a major campaign issue, President Carter has obtained advanced pledges of support from Democratic congressional leaders.
Republican leaders also have given tentative support, but insist that the Democratic leadership must carry the ball.
Most observers have reservations about this conclusion. Leaders have been consulted, but whether they can deliver rank-and-file votes in Congress remains to be seen.Most of Mr. Carter's specific proposals haven't been announced yet. Republicans are waiting to see if the Democratic majority, in an election year, will accept the onus of cutting back programs at a time on the political calendar when Congress normally hands out voter-pleasing tax cuts.
Above all, nobody discounts the power of lobbies and interest groups in what could be an unprecedented series of fierce struggles.
Senate majority leader Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia says minority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee has given promises of support that leave him "very encouraged."
The Senate Republican leader "pledged support but said the Democrats had to take the lead," explained Mr. Byrd. Mr. Baker also said he could not guarantee to deliver the GOP vote.
The situation is unusual to the point of being unprecedented. Only anxiety over the economic crisis could have produced it, most feel.
"Bond market values have dropped by over half-a-trillion dollars since October, 1979," Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas, said in opening hearings on the matter last week. Soaring short-term interest rates caused bond selling, and Mr. Bentsen predicts this may collapse the housing market.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average that was over 900 on Feb. 13 dropped to around 810 last week.
Economist Arthur Burns, respected former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, warned Congress: "The inflation we are faced with today has brought our country to a point of economic crisis unmatched in its dangers since the Great Depression of the 1930s."
Lobby power has risen in Washington as political party discipline in the Senate and House has declined.
The growth of campaign contributions to individuals has sharply lessened dependence of individual office seekers on their parties for financial help in elecition. So-called Political Action Committees, legal vehicles for direct aid to candidates by special interests, have grown from around 90 in 1974 to around 1,000 today.
The most infuential oil lobby in Washington is the American Petroleum Institute, which calls the new Carter fee on imported oil -- which actually is 10-cent-a-gallon surtax on gasoline -- "almost unbelievable." The fee takes effect immediately, since congressional approval is not required.
Other big lobbies in Washington are the Highway Users Association, the AFL-CIO, the million-member American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and assorted industrial groups. Hardly a major interest group in America lacks a lobby spokesman and office here.