The United States Congress, Then and Now
W. Cleon Skousen. The United States Congress, Then and Now. [From Law & Order, November 1976].
The Congress of the United States in the late twentieth century is not the Congress envisioned by the founding fathers. Nor is it functioning according to the provisions of the original Constitution.
The Congress has been restructured so that States as States, are no longer represented. It has been prodded into giving away much of its war-making and peace-making authority to the United Nations. It was originally given the exclusive law-making powers for the entire Federal Government but today the tens of thousands of regulations pouring out of Washington are coming from the Executive Branch, not the Congress. The Congressional authority to protect the nation from subversion through its investigatory committees has been debilitated to the point of virtual extinction.
In place of its original, exclusive authority over federal law-making, war-making, peace-making, and supervising many aspects of international relations, the Congress is now saddled with the task of trying to figure out how to redistribute the wealth and property of the people, how to transfer to Washington from the private sector the States, large segments of responsibility relating to schools, housing, health, energy, environment, crime, labor, management, food production, population control, transportation, communications, hospitals, medical services, drugs, unemployment, prices, production, and charity-welfare.
If the founding fathers could see it they would probably stand stunned, shaking their heads in utter dismay. They would be particularly shocked by a U.S. Senator like Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania boldly justifying the disintegration of limited government by saying:
“We have inherited from our forefathers a governmental structure which so divides power that effective dealing with economic problems is cumbersome…. Of course inaction is what the Founding Fathers intended inaction until such time as an overwhelming consensus was prepared for action…. They were right in their day. But they are wrong in ours…. I have no hesitation in stating my deep conviction that the legislatures of America, local, state and national, are presently the greatest menace to the successful operation of the democratic process…. The executive should be strengthened at the expense of the legislature…. Surely we have reached the point where we can say … that Jefferson was wrong: that government is not best which governs least.” 1
Actually, what is happening to Congress as a result of mentalities like Senator Clark, is a carbon copy of what has been happening to the British Parliament and many other legislatures around the world. They have lashed themselves to the mast of a ship of state headed for the shoreless seas of federalized mass-planning. From Plato to Marx this idea of collectivized economics combined with manipulated power politics has aroused some tantalizing expectations of universal peace and permanent prosperity, but from ancient Memphis to modern Moscow, it has produced nothing except a meager supply of life’s necessities and a threatening cloud of continuous war mongering.
A New Book About Congress
Among Americans there are many who have become alarmed with the changing role of the U.S. Congress. One of these is John J. Rhodes who was elected by the people of his State to represent them in Washington. He recently wrote a most revealing book called The Futile System which John Reston of the New York Times reviewed and said:
“John J. Rhodes of Arizona, the Republican leader of the House, and normally a most cautious and courteous man, has written the most critical book on the Congress that has appeared in a very long time.”
Rhodes, of course, was writing about Congress as it presently operates. The Washington Post called it a “most valuable book, … prerequisite reading for all who would understand the workings of the House.”
Rhodes Describes Recent Changes In Congress
After 22 years in Congress, John J. Rhodes has some interesting observations. He wrote:
“Congress has changed greatly during my career. It has changed physically. When I arrived in 1953, there were two House office buildings. Today, there are three with a fourth being planned. In 1953, the Senators were all crowded into one office building. They now have two and are building a third.
“Most everything in those days was done on a smaller scale. The staffs were smaller. The workload was smaller. The pressures were lighter. When I first started as a Congressman, I had a staff of five. Today, I employ a staff of 12 to handle my district-related business. During my first term, the House and Senate had a combined staff of 4,500 people and an operating budget of $42 million. Today, there are some 16,000 Capitol Hill employees and a budget of more than $414 million.” 2
Not only has Congress been going through a metamorphosis physically, but also temperamentally. Rhodes says:
“A certain club atmosphere has long pervaded both Houses of Congress. This feeling of camaraderie among most of the members comes from being engaged in a common task and having to face common pressures. It has this spirit always been an integral part of congressional life and has traditionally transcended party lines….
“Members of Congress still strive to help one another, but not nearly to the extent that they once did. And members still treat each other with civility, but not anywhere near the civility of earlier days. Congress has changed. Of this there can be no question.
“The atmosphere in and around Congress today is far more acrid than at any time during my career. The members are louder, more uptight, hostile and devious. The average Congressman has always been partisan, but never so partisan as he is today. Today’s members — particularly many of the new members — have failed to master the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable …
“The average Congressman of yesteryear was congenial, polite and willing to work with his colleagues whenever possible. Most important, his main concern was attending to his congressional duties. Today, a large number of Congressmen are cynical, abrasive, frequently uncommunicative and ambitious to an inordinate degree. In their eagerness to draw attention to themselves and advance politically — they frustrate the legislative process.” 3
Spending the Next Generation’s Inheritance
Rhodes points out that the major preoccupation of Congress these days is redistributing the wealth accumulated by the government through taxes. The size of this operation boggles the mind.
“It took the United States 174 years to reach a budget of $100 billion. But in just nine years, Congress doubled that figure. Four years later, the $300 billion mark was crossed. We will probably have a budget of $400 billion in fiscal year 1977….” 4
Well, it turned out to be $413 billion. Congressman Rhodes points out that this enormous spending spree has absolutely no relation to population growth:
“In 1929 we had 120 million Americans and a budget of $3 billion. Today there are around 215 million Americans and we have a period when the American population has grown 77%, federal spending has skyrocketed nearly 12,000%.” 5
Where is all of this money coming from?
“A good chunk of the money we have spent is money we do not have. Thirty-five years ago, the Government had a national debt of $42 billion. Today the debt is $577 billion. These huge deficits have sapped the nation’s strength.” 6
And what about the strength of the next generation which will have to cope with these obligations?
Boondoggling with Billions
The latest federal budget of $413 billion is about 50% for Government programs while the other 50% is simply Government “transfer payments.” In other words, over $200 billion collected in taxes from the people and their corporations will be transferred or paid out to employees and wards of the Government. For the first time in our history, the number working or receiving direct benefits from the Government exceeds the working force of the nation’s private sector.
As might be expected, this massive and impulsive distribution of billions has been impossible to administer in a responsible and careful manner. Therefore, it often turns out that “waste” is the name of the game. The lax manner in which the Food Stamp program has been administered is reflected in the fact that during the first six months of 1975 it was found that 929,000 people received food stamps to which they were not entitled.
Even grants under various government programs have been coming under fire. As was pointed out by a Washington reporter, Donald Lambro:
“We have given the Bedouins $17,000 for a dry cleaning plant to clean their djellabas. We studied the smell of perspiration from Australian aborigines for a mere $70,000. We’ve spent $15,000 to study Yugoslavian lizards, $71,000 to compile a history of comic books, $5,000 to analyze violin varnish, $19,300 to determine why children fall off tricycles, and $375,000 for the Pentagon to study frisbees.” 7
These are only minor examples of totally foolish funding, but it reflects an attitude of reckless irresponsibility in the handling of people’s resources.
What Happens When One Party Controls Congress Too Long?
Rhodes points out that when the Congress was controlled by the Republicans from 1895 to 1910, the party leaders structured the individual members of their own party into positions of so much personal power that even the party leaders could not control them. As a result, the machinery of Congress slowed down to practically a standstill.
Today the same thing has happened with Democrats. Some of the most important legislation supported by a majority of the Democrats in recent sessions has failed to receive favorable consideration because some powerful and ambitious group in that party had acquired strategic strength to block it. Congressman Rhodes says:
“The congressional process itself is not what it used to be. The institutional deterioration, particularly within the committee structure, is not to be believed. Rayburn and soon Johnson (Lyndon) presided over Democratic Congresses, but those Democratic Congresses were not as entrenched as they are now. In those days, the committees were more responsive to the leadership, because the committee jurisdictions were more clearly defined. Today’s majority leadership is forced to work with a committee structure that is hopelessly confused. It seemingly cannot be reformed from within the ranks of the present Democratic party.”
When this type of reform was attempted in 1973, Richard Bolling of Missouri was given the assignment by the party leaders to remodel the tired and confused power-structure which had evolved in the House during nearly 40 years of Democratic rule. When Bolling submitted the plan which his committee had worked out after numerous hearings, it was scrutinized by the party leaders in terms of what it would do to their own personal positions. As a result, Congressman Bolling found his efforts almost entirely in vain. He said:
“I wasn’t the least bit pleased when a majority of my own party turned on (my) bill and managed to scuttle the major parts of it.” 8
This led Congressman Rhodes to comment: “Genuine Congressional reform will not take place until the American people place control of the Congress in the hands of another political party.” (The Futile System, p. 80)
Rhodes explains why the present majority in the House is incapable of reforming its own power structure now that it is built:
“The Democrats will never agree to the kinds of reform that are needed because a system that has served them well over the years would have to be changed. It is the self-interest factor, powerful and persuasive, that stands in the way of real reform.” 9
Some idea of how badly reform is needed may be gained from the fact that in the House of Representatives there are 14 committees and 27 subcommittees that claim jurisdiction over some phase of the energy crisis. Then there is education. There are 22 standing committees and 70 subcommittees that have some jurisdiction over education. Between all of them they have set up 439 federal programs administered by more than 50 federal agencies that relate to post-secondary education alone. 10
Rhodes is considered a very conscientious Representative of his state but he is often frustrated and critical of the party in power when he sees its leaders apparently unable to perform their legislative responsibilities. He writes:
“The majority of congressional actions are aimed not at producing results for the American people as much as at perpetuating the longevity and comfort of the men who run Congress. It is a rip-off of the American taxpayer, injurious to the national interest and an insult to the dignity of the legislative branch envisioned by the founding fathers. The massive deterioration that has taken place within the U.S. Congress during the past two decades is more than just a pity; it poses serious questions for the future of the country. For unless “the people’s branch” can be reformed, it is unlikely that America will find herself able to meet the pressing challenges that lie ahead.
“Had the party roles been reversed and the Republicans been in power for 39 out of the last 43 years, the same legislative deterioration would have occurred. People who are in power for too long, without any check on their power, inevitably become either arrogant or listless or both. My party would have surely fallen prey to the same natural forces.” 11
It is obvious that both parties are faced with an in-house problem which would be to their mutual advantage to solve. Neither of them are able to keep their party machinery under control after they have been in power too long. Individual leaders in the power structure of the party become so strong that not even a majority of that party can surmount the roadblocks which individual selfishness and political ambition have so arrogantly built.
As this chapter demonstrates, there are good men in both parties who want a change. They want to see the Congress get back on its Constitutional track. It is up to the American people to see that these men get help. They should commit themselves to support only those candidates who will work for this change which is now so desperately needed. Unless this is done the prophecy of Congressman Rhodes might well come to pass — Americans could find their Congress so counter-productive that it would be completely incapable of meeting the challenging problems which lie ahead.
History has demonstrated that Americans are often indifferent to political problems until they become acute. But eventually they rise to the occasion. The situation in Congress has become acute. It is time for the American people to act.