Anti-busing bill -- once stalled -- gets back in gear; Rules maneuver could force action by House
At first, the anti-busing bill that finally won passage through the US Senate seemed to stop cold in the House of Representatives.
House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts said shortly after Senate passage March 2 that the bill would rest on his desk until the Judiciary Committee chairman took it. And since Judiciary Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D) of New Jersey is a staunch opponent of the bill, the measure looked stuck.
But busing foes on Capitol Hill have come up with a trump card, a parliamentary move that has shaken the bill off Speaker O'Neill's desk. Rep. Henson Moore (R) of Louisiana introduced a rules resolution to bring the anti-busing bill to the floor for an immediate vote. Then, if the Rules Committee failed to act, he could sponsor a discharge petition to bring his resolution to the floor.
Faced with that threat, Congressman Rodino agreed to take the bill into his committee and begin action. He now has about two weeks to assign it to a subcommittee for hearings. A Judiciary Committee spokesman said he could give no estimate of when hearings might begin.
For supporters of the so-called ''social issue'' bills on Capitol Hill, this step by Rodino is the first sign that these bills will see action on the House floor this year.
The Senate bill on busing leads a long line of proposals to curb the powers of federal courts in areas ranging from school prayer to abortion. The anti-busing measure, which is attached to a Justice Department spending bill, would forbid federal judges to order school children bused more than five miles or 15 minutes from their home for desegregation. It also would ban all Justice Department suits involving busing and permit the department to reopen long-settled busing cases all over the country.
A number of constitutional scholars, both liberals and conservatives, have expressed grave concerns about such efforts to strip courts of authority. The House Democratic leadership has been cool toward court-stripping, and it still has a considerable supply of delay tactics left, even for the busing bill.
''They can go through the motions, but in such a time-consuming way that they will in effect smother the bill with attention,'' says an aide to Congressman Moore. The congressman has worked closely with Sen. Bennett J. Johnston (D) of Louisiana, who sponsored the measure in the Senate.
''Things look a little better now than before,'' adds the aide, who says Moore gives the anti-busing measure, the toughest ever passed by a body of Congress, a 50-50 chance in the House. ''But each day when there is no action is a day against us.''
Busing foes, who almost certainly hold the majority in the House, will be watching the Rodino committee to see if it takes serious action. If not, they can file a petition in late May to bring the bill to the floor. By then, though, more time will be lost in a session when Congress is busy with the budget and working on a shortened, election-year schedule.
Also of note on Capitol Hill:
The budget still isn't budging. While Republicans play down the ''stalemate'' label, they cannot point to much progress either.
''You all are just too impatient,'' Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R) of New Mexico told reporters this week. ''We've never had a (budget) resolution at this point.''
The most hopeful sign, he said, is the ''real courage'' of members who propose limiting the growth of entitlement programs such as social security. He doubted that anyone yet has a formula to bring Congress and the President together on trimming federal deficits, but the budget chairman saw hope in the fact that congressional leaders are at work.
''Once we arrive at a consensus, things are going to move much faster,'' says Domenici.