February 7, 1964
Congress is in trouble with its employers. Last
month, Pollster Lou Harris summarized an extensive voter survey by declaring:
Is this an accurate assessment? What are the facts?
In this and a subsequent report I want to discuss these questions. Most
of what I have to say can be summarized in these two observations:
WHAT'S RIGHT WITH CONGRESS?
Before offering what I intend as constructive
criticisms of Congress I want to give credit for what is right with the
In summary, the ship of Congress has a competent crew but its engine is badly designed and its rudder won't steer.
FOUNDING FATHERS WOULD BE SHOCKED
Democracy is never as efficient as dictatorship. This is a price we cheerfully pay for our liberty; and I recognize that our American democracy was deliberately designed to be more inefficient than most. In fear of tyranny they had known at the hands of strong rulers, our founding fathers intentionally distributed the powers of government into three departments, each with carefully limited powers and with the ability to check the other two departments.
Yet, with all this, I honestly think that Washington, Jefferson and the other architects of our system never intended the self-inflicted paralysis in the legislative branch of the government we have today.
A LOOK AT SOME SPECIFICS
"Is it really this bad?", you might ask. Well,
let's take a look at the bill of particulars:
STALEMATE IS BAD
Some people have the idea that deadlock in Congress is good. To these people, the best Congress would be one which meets briefly, reduces appropriations for every department, repeals a dozen social laws, rejects all new legislation and promptly goes home. Others seem to feel that the best Congress would be one which immediately adopts every proposal made by the President. I agree with neither of these contentions. But I strongly believe our congressional machinery should insure that, after reasonable consideration, we will vote either "yes" or "no" on all major proposals presented by the President or by Members of Congress.
I am disturbed that our present congressional machinery prevents any President from having his program voted upon. I am not arguing for immediate enactment of all Kennedy-Johnson proposals; some I do not support. My point is that there ought to be some means by which President Johnson, or any President, may have his proposals considered and voted up or down.
In this connection, let me say that I have both news and a prediction for the Goldwater for President clubs. The creaking congressional machinery isn't anti-liberal or anti-Kennedy or anti-Johnson. It's pro status quo. It is against change--good change or bad change. In Congress it's just as hard to repeal bad old laws as it is to pass good new ones. If our junior senator goes to the White House in 1965 and the congressional machinery remains unchanged, the Goldwater fans will be just as frustrated as were all-out Kennedy supporters. Bills to sell TVA, pass a national "right to work" law, make Social Security voluntary, etc., will never get out of committee!
ALL BRAKE AND NO ACCELERATOR
Almost weekly, I listen to congressmen complain in speeches that the power of the President and his executive departments is constantly growing at the expense of Congress. There is much truth in these assertions but, in the judgment of this member, Congress has no one to blame but itself. Our machine (to use still another metaphor) is all brake and no accelerator. Instead of creating and devising national policy as was intended we are more and more inclined to wait for executive proposals and then strangle them through inaction.
In the next report I will try to explain why and where the congressional machinery breaks down.
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