IN THE heat the 1954 congressional election campaign President Eisenhower declared that a split government in Washington would bring “a cold war of partisan politics” between a Republican executive and a Democratic legislature. He predicted “political fiddling while the world burns” and he told the voters that to have a Republican in the White House with Democrats running Congress would be like two drivers at the steering wheel. You can’t have that, he argued, and “expect to end up any place but in the ditch.”
The day after the elections, in which the Democrats won both Senate and House, the President told the press that he had no doubt his “cold war” phrase was too strong and that he regretted it. He did not take back the two-drivers-at-the-wheel simile, however, and indeed there has been just that as well as some “political fiddling” in the past two years.
But on the whole the 84th Congress was a reasonably productive Congress. It did, of course, deny the President a good many things he asked, and modified or altered some of his proposals. Without doubt some of those measures would have reached Eisenhower’s desk in a form more to his liking if the Republicans had controlled Congress.
But other measures, the Bricker Amendment for one, did not pass Congress because the Democrats were in control. And the Democrats are right, for the most part, when they talk of saving Eisenhower bills, or key votes on amendments to them, from being nullified by Republicans, notably in the foreign aid field.
On the record
In toto, certainly, it didn’t turn out as badly for the President as he appeared to think it might —or for the nation. Looking especially at the second session, which ended just before the nominating conventions, we can draw these general conclusions: —
1. The coalition of Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats in both Senate and House generally ruled and controlled the outcome of roll calls its it has ever since the end of the lopsided Democratic majorities in the heyday of the New Deal twenty years ago.
2. The views of this coalition on domestic matters more often than not approximated Eisenhower’s own “dynamic conservative” viewpoint. This was especially true of the four party leaders— Senators Johnson and Know land, Speaker Rayburn and Representative Martin— despite Johnson’s much-advertised “program with a heart” and Martin’s basic ultraconservatism.
3. The extremes of the Republican-controlled 83rd Congress, when the Eisenhower victory put such men as McCarthy into powerful committee chairmanships, disappeared in the 84th. The kind words Eisenhower has had to say from time to time about the congressional Democrats reflect his relief from such excesses.
4. In some instances, often due to the JohnsonRayburn party whip, there were reasonably clear partisan divisions on issues. But even here, enough Southern Democrats on occasion deserted the party line, as in the case of the Hell’s Canyon Dam bill, to give the Republicans victory.
5. In the field of foreign policy, the President continued to be hobbled on t rade issues by orthodox Republicanism, abetted by a growing conservatism among Southern Democrats as their increasingly industrialized area became more protection-minded. Toward the end of the Congress there was increasing Democratic criticism of Administration foreign policy in the face of new Russian tactics. Democratic votes upheld the President on aid to India and in part to Yugoslavia but, for the first time since foreign aid began, it took Republican votes to save part of the program from further cuts on some key roll calls.
These are generalizations, of course, all subject to exceptions. While McCarthyism has been latent, 17 Republican senators out of 47, or more than one third, voted or went on record against confirming as a delegate to the United Nations Paul Hoffman, the GOP businessman who was Truman’s first foreign aid administrator as well as cochairman of the 1952 Citizens for Eisenhower movement. A good many Washington observers think this was about as good a test as any of just how effective President Eisenhower’s campaign to revamp and modernize his party in Congress has been thus far. From one point of view it is an argument for another four years of Republican stewardship, since senators are elected for six years and the President has personally been responsible for putting several more modernstyle GOP senatorial candidates into this year’s race.
In the foreign field there were no real tests of congressional sentiment beyond the sample votes on the foreign aid bill. The Congress was confused, a mood shared across the party aisles. Except for t he die-hards of prewar isolationist vintage, most were uneasy over the switch in Soviet tactics; they had a queasy feeling that the United States ought to do something about it, but were for the most part not sure just what. In a combination of politics and genuine fears that the President and the Pentagon were not keeping our military guard up, the Democrats managed to force some $900 million more in defense money on the Administration than it had asked.
In a sense the long row over a farm bill was a reflection of the same problem, for the agricultural surpluses which lay at the root of declining farm prices were the product of farm legislation for war and cold war.
Certainly the case of the added $900 million showed once again that while the Constitution indicates that the legislative and the executive are coequal, it is next to impossible for the legislative to initiate policy. It can, however, always deny the means of carrying out executive policy.
The Administration for the fiscal year ending this past June 30 came up with a budget surplus of almost $1.8 billion, and applied part of it to the national debt, thus fulfilling a ‘52 campaign promise. A major contributing factor was the ever-increasing prosperity which brought record tax receipts of $68.1 billion despite the tax cut voted by the 83rd Congress.
Another factor — about which the Democrats in the 84th complained a lot— was that the Administration drained defense and foreign aid pipelines which had been filled up under Truman. In this, however, the President had the assistance of the congressional coalition which long had struggled against the multibilliondollar carry-overs demanded by the lead time needed to provide weapons for ourselves and our allies. This year the Eisenhower Administration for the first time asked Congress to fill up the foreign aid pipeline again, knowing perfectly well the bills would be paid later — after November.
The Administration, as Congress adjourned, was again moving to trim the military manpower of the nation both to meet the ever-changing pattern of potential warfare and to keep the Pentagon budget somewhere Within bounds. One estimate was that it would cost $7 billion more in the next fiscal year just to keep manpower level for another year because of increased cost of nuclear and electronic weapons and supplies.
Fiscal management was the key issue in the huge highway bill passed by Congress, the biggest peacetime public works bill in history and one sure to have a major impact on the economy for years to come. The Democrats last year flatly refused (and had the votes to back up their refusal) to accept Eisenhower’s bond indebtedness plan, on the ground that it would only enrich the bankers and underwriters. This year the President retreated, and the Democrats got t heir way with what was essent ially a pay-as-you-ride financing plan. Here was a case of agreed objective but a program altered because the Democrats controlled Congress.
Eisenhower got his postal rate increase bill, designed to balance the Post Office budget, through the House. But it died in the Senate for political reasons as much as any other. The Democrats will probably point out in the coming campaign that the Republicans wanted to charge four cents fora three-cent stamp.
In what might be called the field of public versus private interests the Southern Democrats combined with the Republicans to kill hopes by Democratic leaders of creating some election issues. In this category were Hell’s Canyon and a major extension of public housing. The “giveaway” issue, too, was covered with an oily smudge when Senate Leader Johnson forced through the natural gas bill only to have it vetoed by the President. Still, enough of a party line was drawn to create sectional issues in the power-hungry Northwest and the TVA-conscious South where DixonYates is still a pair of names to remember.
The legislative record on big versus small business was slim. But the O’Mahoney hearings on automobile dealers’ franchise problems brought a voluntary change by the big companies, thus perhaps heading off something mandatory. O’Mahoney got through the Senate a bill to let auto dealers sue manufacturers if their franchises were not carried out in good faith. The House drew the teeth of compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees before the bill was sent to the White House.
One measure which includes both public versus private and foreign policy aspects was the Democratic effort to force on the Administration a crash program for the development of peaceful atomic energy. This power program, passed by the Senate over GOP protests but killed by the House, was the culmination of an evergrowing feud between congressional Democrats headed by Senator Anderson, chairman of the Joint Congressional Atomic Energy Committee, and AEC Chairman Strauss. It also had the support of those Democrats who felt the Administration was moving too cautiously to carry out the overseas atoms-for-peace program in the face of economic penetration by the Kremlin.
In what might be called the field of public rights, the President’s moderate civil rights bill was passed by a largely cynical House after the Southern Democrats, abetted by some tongue-in-cheek Republicans, stalled it to the last minute to ensure that it would die in the Senate. Knowland was unwilling to risk a split in the coalition even at the potential campaign gain of a last-minute dramatization of the Democratic Party’s schizophrenia on the issue.
The Democrats loosened up the President’s social security liberalization bill before they passed it, lowering the retirement age below 65 for the first time in some categories. They gave the Administration more than it asked, but not more than some of its officials wanted, for health research.
The major black mark against both parties in this field came on the clean elections bill to regulate campaign spending. After the disclosure of the $2500 campaign contribution offer to Senator Case of South Dakota, 85 of the 96 senators became “cosponsors” of the bill. But neither Johnson, on whom the main responsibility must lie, nor Knowland, who also bears some of the blame, made a major effort to put it over. They finally backed down after the public furor was forgotten when a right-wing Republican, Goldwater of Arizona, insisted t hat he would offer an amendment to restrict labor-union campaign spending.
It should also be noted that Senator McClellan of the special lobbying investigating committee which grew out of the Case issue managed to subdue the whole affair in a most adroit fashion, thus robbing the proposed clean-up bill of any further public interest and support.
Neither party made any real effort to give statehood to Hawaii or Alaska after early stalemates, nor did the District of Columbia win its longsought right of local self-government.
Of all t he legislative failures, that of aid to public schools was the most dismal. A combination of the most naked politics on the part of many Northern Republicans who are counting on Negro votes this fall, and Southern Democrats who fear the coming of integration, so saddled the bill with amendments that it finally went down to defeat, 194 to 244.
A check of the Republicans showed that there were 23 Republicans from so-called marginal districts who voted for the Powell amendment to deny school aid to states which do not follow the Supreme Court’s school mandate. These may expect to benefit in November — and the GOP clearly hopes to gain some or all of the seats of the eight Democrats from similarly close districts who voted against the amendment in the hope of passing a school aid bill.
In the foreign field, the House never even voted on approving American membership in the Organization for Trade Cooperation, because a head count showed the Democratic majority was too slim and there were not enough GOP votes to assure passage of the President’s oft-repeated request. A watered-down customs simplification bill did make its way to the President ‘s desk, however.
The House, under urging by Republican Walter Judd, a onetime medical missionary in China, refused to give the President the power he wanted to barter farm surpluses with Communist nations.
The Congress junked the President’s request to build an atomicpowered show ship and demothball an aircraft carrier as a floating information center. And it failed to give Eisenhower what he requested for United States Information Agency funds, though it did raise the figure from the McCarthy-inspired lows.
Mirror of the times
In sum, despite the fact t hat Dwight D. Eisenhower is as popular a President as this nation has ever had, he was able to obtain from the 84th Congress only a part of what, he sought. Part of the reason lies in his refusal to battle the Congress for his program as earlier Presidents have done with varying degrees of success.
On the other hand, the 84th was in no respects a runaway Congress, despite its opposition party leadership. No Congress since the vindictive Reconstruction period when Thaddeus Stevens dominated Congress and the House impeached Andrew Johnson has been a runaway. Some, it is true, like that of the last half of the Hoover Administration, turned a cold shoulder to the Chief Executive. But t hose were days of dramatic public problems, t he depression years. These have been years of increasing national complacency. And the Congress has been a mirror of the times.