Special interests busy in lame-duck Congress

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Anyone looking for Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum had best check out the chamber of the US Senate nowadays. While most of his colleagues come to the floor only when the Capitol bell system signals a recorded vote, Senator Metzenbaum is usually already there.

The Ohio Democrat is standing guard over the closing weeks of the 97th Congress, sounding the alarm as special interests try to win passage of their favorite bills. While the last minute push for special interests comes nearly every session, this year has produced an unusually long wish list. Metzenbaum has registered objections on at least 15 proposals.

They range from bills to exempt the National Football League from antitrust laws to a bankruptcy bill that would permit banks, stores, and other creditors to go after future earnings of bankrupt individuals.

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The biggest fight seems certain to be over the Federal Trade Commission. In an unscheduled vote last week, the House of Representatives pulled out of the hopper and approved a controversial bill that would remove all state-regulated professionals, including doctors, dentists, and lawyers, from FTC control.

The federal agency acts as a watchdog against price-fixing, restraints on advertising, and false advertising.

Proponents of the measure argued the FTC has overstepped its bounds and that states and professional groups would police the professions better without federal interference. Rep. W. J. (Billy) Tauzin (D) of Louisiana called the FTC ''an agency that has gone out of control.''

Although the legislation is not scheduled for debate in the Senate, a Senate leadership aide predicts that there will be an effort to bring up the issue before the lame-duck session ends later this month.

However, supporters will first have to deal with Metzenbaum, who vows to delay action in the upper chamber. ''I state unequivocally that this dreadful proposal should never see the light of day in this session,'' he said.

He has the support of the self-proclaimed citizen's lobby, Common Cause. The group found that supporters of the bill are also among the biggest recipients of more than $3 million from the American Medical Association and American Dental Association political action committees.

Common Cause found that of 50 House members who got the most money from those two groups, all but eight voted with the special interests on the bill. Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, charged that ''what it says once again to the American people is that money talks very loud on Capitol Hill.''

That money will not necessarily talk loud enough to win in the Senate this month. But both houses have already voted to restrict the FTC once this session by vetoing an agency rule that would have required dealers to disclose known defects in used cars.

Metzenbaum has already managed to stop, for now, one of the bills on his opposition list. The measure, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would have reduced by millions of dollars the liability of corporations found guilty of price-fixing. Chief backer Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina, judiciary chairman, withdrew the bill last Thursday in the face of a Metzenbaum filibuster.

''A lot of lobbyists are working on this measure,'' said the Ohio senator. ''More money was spent on this measure than was spent on any other this session.''

Also on the Metzenbaum watch-list:

* A bill to exempt beer wholesalers from antitrust action and allow them to have exclusive territories.

* An act to free overseas shippers from antitrust restraints.

* Amendments to mineral leasing laws that would allow oil companies to mine oil shale on federal lands without paying royalty fees charged for drilling.

Notably missing is a bill, slated for House action this week, to require foreign auto makers to use US parts in cars sold here. Metzenbaum is a cosponsor of similar legislation in the Senate. An aide said that it is ''difficult'' to oppose the measure in Ohio, where it has strong backing from auto workers.

The ''domestic content'' legislation would require that, for model year 1985, any company selling more than 900,000 autos here must build them with 90 percent US parts. Labor spokesmen claim such legislation could save close to 1 million jobs, while the Congressional Budget Office puts the saving at far less, about 200,000 jobs.

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