'Lame duck' session of Congress is looking forward more than back
Jimmy Carter's last Congress is playing out its final days with an unmistakable glance sideways toward Ronald Reagan and the more-Republican Congress waiting in the wings.
While the GOP President-elect and his entourage visit Capitol Hill for a round of courtesy calls, the vision of a Republican takeover of the White House and Senate is looming as a visible political presence in both chambers.
The result is a post-election sitting of Congress that is turning out to be, in many ways, less of a traditional "lame duck" session, looking defiantly backward, than a "transition" Congress anticipating the new political realities.
"Congress has heard of the voice of the people," affirms one returning senior member of the House of Representatives.
But it's a force that cuts two ways. On some issues, the still-Democrat-dominated Congress shows signs of yielding prematurely to a Republican electoral mandate that doesn't take effect until January. but on other issues Democratic lawmakers are rushing to enact "now-or-never" measures.
The latest congressional attempt to curb court-ordered busing -- voting for the first time ever to bar the Department of Justice from seeking court orders for busing students to desegregate schools -- bears the strong imprint of Nov. 4 .
The victorious Senate battle was spearheaded by two of its leaders-to-be, Sen. J. Storm Thurmond (R) of South Carolina and Sen. Jesse A. Helms (R) of North Carolina. Both prospective committee chairmen argued that Ronald Reagan's election serves as a mandate to halt busing for desegregation, and the President-elect says that as chief executive he would sign such a prohibition into law.President Carter, on the other hand, may veto it.
The margin of difference in the Senate vote of 42 to 38 may have been supplied by two Democrats from Southern states. Outgoing majority leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and David H. Pryor of Arkansas switched sides after opposing essentially the same measure last September -- before the election.
The annual budget of the federal government, now emerging from the lame-duck Congress, incorporates, as a concession to a major campaign theme of the President-elect, a 2 percent spending cut in every field except the military to be made by the incoming administration.
The budget, which would run a deficit of $25 billion on overall spending of $ 631.7 billion, was approved by the House over the objections of nearly all Republicans, plus an eyebrow-raising number of Democrats.
Altogether, 45 Democrats, perhaps emboldened by the election results, deserted their party to oppose the budget on grounds that it is too costly.
As to "last chance" legislation, Congress has rushed to the President for his signature a bill which has ranked as a top priority of his administration and environmental leaders in the House and Senate. It designates more than 104 million acres of Alaska as national parks, wildlife refuges, and conservation areas.
Just hours after reconvening in the wake of the Democratic election setbacks, the House hurriedly gave up on its own stronger bill and ratified a Senate compromise.
"Political realities dictate that we act promptly," explained House Interior Committee chairman Morris K. Udall (D) of Arizona.
The pro-development sympathies of incoming Reagan administration and Republican-controlled Senate were expected to make the legislative climate for seeking a more strongly conservationist bill in the new Congress bleak.