Pet amendments sail through Congress on wave of rushed bills
With only days left in the 98th Congress, the United States Capitol has become the scene of a massive scramble to pass laws, pet amendments, and hundreds of dam and reservoir projects before lawmakers go home for the election campaign.
Almost every must-pass bill now becomes a possible vehicle for programs and language near to the hearts and politics of congressmen. And the favorite carrier, the 1985 funding bill, which must be passed to keep the government running after Oct. 1, is packed to the hilt.
''It's the last train leaving the station'' is the often repeated theme, as legislators continue work on the $700 billion-plus spending bill. Thus, Republicans in the House pulled a surprise parliamentary maneuver to add to the funding bill an unrelated anticrime reform package that had seemed doomed for the year.
Major criminal-law reforms that had been moving in piecemeal fashion through House committees suddenly won passage after only 10 minutes of debate on the House floor. ''There were no members on the Republican side or the Democratic side who were aware of what was in the package,'' House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. complained afterward. ''I think it was the wrong way to legislate.'' Nonetheless, Mr. O'Neill freed his party members to vote in favor of the crime legislation.
O'Neill noted that the funding bill also includes more than 300 dams and reservoirs for congressional districts. Some members are hoping that if the crime bill stays attached to the funding bill, Mr. Reagan might go along with their water projects and sign the legislation. The White House has already sent warnings of a veto because of cost add-ons.
The crime legislation, which is exactly the same bill passed in the Senate earlier this year by 91 to 1, would ban parole for convicted federal criminals, while setting up a commission to provide uniform sentencing for similar crimes. The reform package would also permit judges to hold prisoners without bail before trial if the judge found the defendant to be dangerous.
The crime package excludes some of the most controversial anticrime proposals , such as allowing evidence that police obtained illegally. But David E. Landau, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group opposes the reform package, which he said will erode the ''presumption of innocence'' and result in longer sentences and more-crowded federal prisons.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R) of California, who pushed for the crime package on the House floor, pointed to the 243-to-166 vote as evidence that the House leadership had been ''denying an opportunity to vote'' on the crime bill. He said he believes the bill now has a 90 percent chance of becoming law.
Among the dozens of bills lawmakers are trying to push through before adjournment Oct. 5:
* The Senate went along with the House Wednesday to require the tobacco industry to print detailed warnings on cigarette packages about dangers of smoking. The manufacturers would also be required to rotate three versions of the health warning.
* The final version of major child-abuse legislation sailed through the House on Wednesday. The bill would encourage states to strengthen their efforts to investigate child abuse, including sexual abuse in child-care centers. It would also define as child abuse the ''withholding of medically indicated treatment'' from infants diagnosed as being disabled and having life-threatening conditions.
* Supporters of the Civil Rights Bill of 1984 are still trying to find a way to pass legislation to strengthen antidiscrimination laws governing federally funded institutions. The laws, which have been credited for providing more sports scholarships for women, have been weakened by a recent United States Supreme Court ruling. The House has passed a bill to reverse that ruling, but the Senate as yet has not.
* The Senate may yet take up a the balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, and a bipartisan group of senators is proposing giving the President the power to veto ''line items'' in spending bills. The House plans to return the fire by considering a bill next week requiring a president to submit a balanced-budget plan to Congress in his annual spending and taxing proposal.
* The waning days of the 98th Congress may also see the ratification of the 35-year-old Genocide Treaty, which has been signed by most of the world's major nations except the United States. The treaty, drawn up in response to the murders of millions of Jews during World War II, is expected to come to the Senate for a vote this weekend.