IN THE midst of problems ranging from how to deal with the Soviet Union and Red China to the nightmare of the farm surplus and the needs of an expanding population, Washington is beginning to realize that the United States is up against a basic issue unrecognized by the founding lathers. This is the issue of divided government, of a President of one party and a Congress under control of the other.
In the 1956 election a victorious Republican President lost both houses of Congress, the first such instance in American history. The division of powers between the two parties, it was confidently said, was a passing phenomenon accountable for by the soldier-statesman’s vast personal popularity in a nation which nonetheless wants far more action from its government than Eisenhower is prepared to approve. But now, with the presidcntial conventions less than a year off there is for the first time a feeling in the Capital that divided government may become a recurring dilemma.
The suspicion is arising that the voters may have come to like the idea of a President of one party and a Congress of the other. Perhaps it is because they have become so conditioned to voting for the man for President, since the images are clear, and for the party for Congress, where the individual image is blurred but the party image is clear. Or perhaps they like the idea of divided government as a new form of checks and balances on the huge thing known as the federal government or simply as “Washington.”
The presidential election next year should provide an answer. Senate leader Lyndon Johnson believes that the Democrats will sweep to complete victory and thus return the operations of party government to what has been considered normal. But other Democrats now can be heard to say that their party is stronger than any of its presidential aspirants, and hence the party will have to pull the nominee into the White House rather than the other way around.
Prospects for 1960
Both Republican prospects, Vice President Nixon and Governor Rockefeller, seem to be sharper public images than any of the seeming mass of Democratic hopefuls. And in addition, the Democrats will quickly concede, both Nixon and Rockefeller are stronger than their party, just as Eisenhower has proved to be. The early presidential polls tend to support these judgments. Furthermore, it is a statistical fact that the Republicans next year cannot win control of the Senate, what with the huge Democratic majority today and the fact that only a third of the Senate will be up for re-election in 1960. And the most that the new Republican National Committee chairman, Senator Morton of Kentucky, foresees for the House is Republican control “by a thin margin.”
President Eisenhower mused out loud at a press conference on the problems of divided government, indicating that he had considered the idea of trying to graft some parts of the parliamentary system to the American model. But, he added with an air of defeat, he and the late Secretary Dulles had decided it was better “to stick with what we have but try to make it work a little bit better.
In a recent Fund for the Republic study on the political process in the free society, Princeton professor Stephen K. Bailey declared that enhancing the possibility of one-party control of the Government would enhance the possibility of substantial governmental power and would unmistakedly fix responsibility for governmental policy.”His suggestion was for four-year House terms and eightyear Senate terms with all of the House members and half the senators elected in presidential years. He argued that “under normal conditions” such a constitutional change “would insure the same political complexion" with respect to the House and the presidency and mean the “likelihood" of the same thing for both houses of Congress.
Ike versus Congress
The first session of the 86th Congress is now nearing its end. At the beginning there was defiant talk from the jubilant Democrats of serving up to the President a batch of measures on a takeit-or-leave-it basis. But after a couple of timorous experiments, the Democrats demonstrated that they could not quite muster the necessary twothirds vote in both houses to override Eisenhower on even the most minor measure.
Had the 1958 recession continued well into 1959, the story might have been different, with pressures from back home enough to sway the additional votes against the President. By spring, however, it was clear that a new boom was under way. And the President, confident that he had been right last year in fighting off massive spending, took the offensive on the budget issue. His success against the big Democratic majority has pleased him enormously and disgruntled the bulk of his opposition.
Many observers in Washington continue to consider the budget balancing or fiscal responsibility issue, as raised by Eisenhower, to be a phony. They argue, among other things, that whatever pressures there arc from the voters on something vaguely called “the budget” have their origin not in federal taxes and expenditures, which have not appreciably changed for some years, but in the massive demands for greater spending by state and local governments, with many resultant tax increases at these levels.
The President has been getting some expert help from fellow Republican leaders in his running battle with the Democrats. The new House leader, Indiana’s Charles Halleck, especially has been getting under Johnson’s skin with his pronouncements on the White House steps following the regular Tuesday morning GOP legislative conferences with Eisenhower. Johnson growled about “partisan slogans shouted hastily into a microphone on a Tuesday morning.” Halleck grinned and retorted that “it would really be quite flattering if we were able to exercise any real control over the legislative program.” And GOP Chairman Morton hit another soft spot by calling the current Congress the Democratic “won’l-do" Congress.
The Jobnson-Rayburn strategy has always been to make a Democratic record for the country to judge. This has paid off in congressional elections. It did not in the 1956 presidential election, but no one really thought that any Democrat could defeat the incumbent Eisenhower. Now the problem is to create a record on which to elect not only another Democratic Congress but a President as well. Here the Eisenhower attack has knocked the Democrats off balance.
Senator Church of Idaho
A century and a half ago Henry Clay took his scat in the Senate though he was still several months under the constitutional age of thirty. But in recent years Senate “babies" have tended to be newspaper items rather than important members of the upper house. Rush Holt of West Virginia arrived in a blaze of publicity and waited outside for his thirtieth birthday before taking the oath. He soon departed into political oblivion. Russell ong arrived at thirty in 1948. But his record is hardly distinguished.
The current Senate baby, however, is something else again. Now in his third year in Washington, Frank F. Church will be thirty-five on July 25. He is still mistaken by visitors for a Senate page boy, and he speaks in the stilted manner of the school orator. This latter characteristic, incidentally, won him the national American Legion oratorical contest and a $4000 scholarship at Stanford University when he was a high school junior. His eighteen months of wartime experience in the infantry in India, Burma, and China delayed his law degree but did not rub the youthful appearance from his face.
Church is a Senate liberal, but not a Senate radical. His boyhood hero was Idaho’s long-time lion, William E. Borah. But where Borah was an isolationist, Church is an internationalist. And where Borah often bucked his party leadership, Church is a man on whom Democratic Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson can usually count.
Two years ago Church was tapped by Johnson to put forward and argue for a compromise on the jury trial issue in the then pending civil rights bill. Earlier this year he helped put through the Johnson compromise on loosening, however slightly, the Senate’s filibuster rule. In both cases he showed himself an effective middle-of-the-roader.
More and more this year Church has begun to speak up on international affairs. He has been able to do so because he was given a seat on foreign relations committee, making him the youngest and most junior senator in a long time to win such a coveted post.
Church has joined that little band of senators, including Humphrey and Gore, who pay some attention to disarmament. Young enough to be an enthusiast yet old enough in politics to be practical, he has tried to find a middle ground between Humphrey’s almost all-out support of a nuclear test ban and Gore’s reluctance to go further than a ban on tests in the atmosphere lest a total ban inhibit American weapons development.
The “munitions lobby”
Early this spring a number of top congressional leaders attended an important White House meeting on the military program. They were startled to hear the President, who was opposing talk of beefing up the missile and other “hardware” programs, say with some bitterness that the “munitions makers” were behind such pressures, that if they had their way they would want national mobilization. Similar talk had been heard elsewhere in the Administration, apparently reflecting similar presidential remarks to his own Cabinet family, but not until after the White House meeting did the remarks gain general circulation.
Several weeks later a reporter asked the President about the remark during a press conference.
Eisenhower quite obviously was annoyed at what he considered a breach of a confidence, but he did not flatly deny the remark. Almost at the same hour, by chance, the House came within one vote of barring defense industries from hiring retired generals or admirals. Only the promise of a House committee inquiry of such practices and of what is called the “munitions lobby” kept the provision out of the defense appropriation bill.
The idea of a probe of a munitions lobby calls up memories of the Nye Committee, which raised a great hue and cry in the isolationist years between the two world wars about “merchants of death” who, in the Marxist formula, pushed armaments solely because of the business profits involved. This is the cry heard over and over again today from the Kremlin, usually in terms of greedy monopolists who would willingly speed the world to its final and total destruction by nuclear war in order to make a profit.
There is no reason to think that this is the case or that any such thing is what the President had in mind. It is true that a number of companies live to a high degree on government contracts. And it is widely recognized that the missile makers especially have been overardent champions of the rival military services on which much of their business depends. Their full-page newspaper advertisements, referred to by the President during his comments, sometimes have been too blatant.
But the search for business, by all the evidence so far available, is a search for a bigger slice of the available business, not for the creation of new weapons simply to obtain more business. The pressures on Washington about which the President complained are not so much to spend but where to spend, with which company. Even this sort of thing, however, has begun to get out of hand. Hence the House investigation is timely.
Mood of the Capital
Presidential politics is in the air; the candidates, however much they currently disavow their intentions, are running hither and yon to line up support. Everybody knows that this sort of activity will increase until the climax next year of the conventions and the election itself.
Yet more and more there is a somber mood in Washington, a gnawing fear that the United States is not doing enough. The Berlin crisis has sharpened the feeling, for it appears to be the boldest move yet by the cocky Communists, a challenge to the United States in what has always been considered its strongest area, Western Europe.