AFL-CIO to seek more 'responsive' Congress after 1981 'near disaster'

Organized labor has assessed the first session of the 97th Congress in 1981 as ''a near disaster'' because it failed to cope with rising unemployment and a worsening recession.

Congress worked ''hand in glove with the administration in a viritual abdication of the independent role of Congress,'' according to Ray Denison, AFL-CIO legislative director. It hardly budged, he said, from ''the ideological path laid out by the White House.''

With 1982 a congressional election year, the AFL-CIO will keep a close watch on voting trends in the Senate and House. It already is planning a strong political battle for, as the labor federation puts it, ''a more representative and responsive Congress.''

The AFL-CIO evaluation of the first session of this Congress naturally is based on what it considers necessary legislative programs. In contrast, the White House has reported the President as ''pleased'' with the 1981 session. And most Republicans and conservative Democrats are enthusiastic about the series of major legislative victories for the administration in a year when Congress labored along a Republican course for the first time since 1959.

On the other hand, Senate minority leader Robert C. Byrd (D) of West Virginia terms the 1981 record as ''dismal.'' House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts, President Reagan's chief congressional adversary, laments that Congress gave the President ''everything he wanted.''

Both men are calling on Democrats on Capitol Hill to tighten ranks when the next session opens on Jan. 25, a day after the President delivers his State of the Union message.

Congress concentrated on economic legislation in 1981. Coalitions of Republicans and conservative Democrats -- called ''boll weevils'' -- frustrated efforts by regular Democrats to defeat or modify Reagan legislation. Only 91 measures were enacted, compared with 426 in 1980.

Senate Republican leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee conceded that the 97th Congress so far has been ''a controversial Congress'' and one that has made ''more fundamental changes in the public policy than any Congress in decades.''

AFL-CIO is strongly at odds with the ''fundamental changes in public policy.'' It calls them ''regressive,'' and it says that almost every economic step taken by the 97th Congress was ''in the wrong direction.''

According to AFL-CIO's Denison, ''wrong steps'' included wiping out public-service jobs programs, scuttling trade adjustment assistance for workers who lose jobs because of imports, the elimination of most job training and placement programs, and reducing family assistance for the neediest.

More than a million people have been cut off from food stamps. Fewer schoolchildren are entitled to reduced-price lunches. Medicaid payments to states have been reduced and medicare cutbacks compel older Ameircans to pay a bigger share of their health costs.

The Reagan tax-cut bill enacted by Congress was, Mr. Denison said, ''especially outrageous . . . shifting still more of the tax burden from corporations to taxes paid by workers, and starving the federal government of revenue for years into the future.''

AFL-CIO also faults Congress for reducing housing programs substantially when home building has been at the lowest level in years. And it blames Congress for going along with administration proposals that, AFL-CIO says, have underfunded direct federal grants and consolidated ''block grants'' to states and cities, ''squeezing them so hard that Republican governors and mayors are protesting as loudly as Democrats.''

On the plus side, says Denison, labor ''victories'' were largely in staving off ''further legislative catastrophes'' and in blocking, temporarily, the confirmation of John R. Van de Water, Mr. Reagan's choice as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

Looking ahead, the federation sees Congress again emphasizing economic legislation. But AFL-CIO says it also sees a possible ''restiveness in Republican ranks that could signal some shifting in the second session.''

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