The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

THE House,” wrote Woodrow Wilson more than half a century ago, “has the advantage of being regarded as the more truly representative chamber and of being more directly in touch with the general sentiment of the country. The House also has the advantage of being under thorough discipline and standing ready to do what it is told to do promptly.” Both these assessments have remained correct so long that it is something of a shock to appraise the House today, in comparison with the Senate, and to find how far it has strayed from the body of which Wilson wrote.

The fact is that today it is the Senate which is the more liberal, or more “progressive,” body, if one wishes to use the word President Kennedy uses to describe his own point of view. The House has become balky; Administration officials contend that it is less expressive of the national mood than the Senate is. The House is more conservative than it was in the final two Eisenhower years; one reason is that a score or so of liberal Democratic members were defeated as Kennedy was winning narrowly. But there arc deeper reasons.

For one thing, while the nation has become more and more urban — 70 percent of the people live in or around cities — the layout of House districts results in overrepresentation of rural America. The state legislatures, which are dominated to an even greater extent than the House by their rural members, do the redistricting for the House after each census, and this built-in bias is again evident in the current redistricting decisions in many states. Pure politics, too, has made many districts unrepresentative by piling large numbers of voters of one party or the other into a single “safe” district. There appears to be no relief from this problem unless the Supreme Court permits the federal courts to take a hand in at least the most glaring cases of inequity.

Another factor is that House members tend to particularize, to vote according to what they consider to be the interests of their own districts, whereas senators, with larger constituencies, must pay attention to a considerable variety of often conflicting interests. This situation, of course, is not new, but it seems to have grown worse with the multiplication of organized pressure groups of all sorts and with the multiplicity of foreign policy issues which come before Congress on roll calls. The President must convince the congressmen, and senators too, to vote in the national interest at their own political risk. This is asking a lot, but it is easier to convince a senator than a congressman.

The Kennedy program

The tone of the President’s State of the Union address was clearly within the meaning of the term “progressive” rather than “liberal.” But the Congress, especially the House, is something less than progressive as things now stand. This is an election year, and all House members must face the voters. Therefore, the prospect favors final passage of most of the Kennedy proposals, though many items will be watered down before they reach the President’s desk for signature.

Naturally enough, there is a high degree of political content in the Kennedy program. This is especially so in his medical care and civil rights proposals. The aim. frankly, is less to pass the medical care bill this year than to get a roll call in each house, in the belief that negative GOP votes can be turned to political advantage on November 6. No substantial shift in the division of the Senate, where only a third of the membership must face the voters, is in prospect. But Kennedy well knows that in every nonpresidential off-year election in modern times, with the single exception of 1934, the party in power has suffered losses. And he cannot afford losses if he is to succeed in getting Congress to pass the legislation he has asked for.

During the 1960 campaign, Kennedy made some rather sweeping civil rights promises, especially if one considers him bound by the wordage of the Democratic platform. But practical politics has led him to avoid legislative tights lor new measures and, instead, to lean heavily on various forms of executive action for progress in this field.

In all fairness, it must be recalled that Kennedy said repeatedly that he could do a great deal as President without new legislation; his criticism was that Eisenhower had not used the powers he already had. Vet President Kennedy has run out on Senator Kennedy’s campaign promise to end with the stroke of a pen discrimination in housing built with the aid of the federal government. He shelved this idea, though an executive order had been drafted, in the very realistic belief that such a move would rouse so much Southern ire that it would lose him indispensable votes on a good many other measures.

But, to answer criticism from Negro and liberal leaders who had supported his candidacy, the President unexpectedly proposed this year to back a measure to end arbitrary tests as a qualification for voting. This instantly jabbed a sensitive Southern nerve.

The power of Congress

Both the voting proposal and Kennedy’s request for the power to cut income taxes for limited periods as an anti-recession measure would affect the division of powers within our system of government; both are being attacked on that ground as much as on their own merits. The voting scheme, related to the 1961 Civil Rights Commission proposal to accept education through the sixth grade as sufficient qualification to meet any state literacy or education test, would mean setting a federal standard in a field almost wholly left to the states thus far. There is considerable argument as to whether this could be done by legislation rather than through a constitutional amendment.

The tax measure transgresses the jealously guarded constitutional power of the House to originate, and the Congress to set, tax rates. The President’s trade measure also runs afoul of the historic right of Congress to set tariffs, but this right was vitiated back in 1934 when Congress transferred to the President in the first Reciprocal Trade Act a large measure of its power.

A year ago, Washington was so agog over the dynamism President Kennedy had introduced into the executive branch of the government that Congress was relegated to a back seat. This year, things are different; the novelty has worn off, the less controversial parts of the Kennedy legislative program already are law, and the hard bills arc now before Congress, which is finally getting its voice back, in part because of the coming election.

Nevertheless, foreign affairs will surely dominate 1962 as they did 1961, and in this field the President is the key man. Congress must vote the money, and it has the power of harassment through investigations, a power which will come into play this year as dissenters over Administration policies, toward the Congo, especially, use the congressional forum. The normal interplay of politics and of the check-and-balanee system between branches of government is once more very much in evidence.

Has Kennedy gone conservative?

There has been a good deal of criticism that the President is hewing too much to the middle of the road politically. To this. Kennedy reacts with annoyance; indeed, there have been occasions when high officials close to the President have openly told reporters from newspapers which have been rated too critical that they do not see why they should continue to meet the newsmen. This is a phase of bureaucratic foolishness through which many new administrations have passed, but it has served to irritate a lot of newsmen.

However, it is not accurate to say that Kennedy has gone conservative. Indeed, the centerpiece of his foreign policy plan this year, the proposal for a new trade policy, is a big step forward, a bold plan, courageously undertaken. A number of the President’s advisers suggested that he wait another year to press for its enactment and that this year be devoted to public and congressional education. He rejected this advice and plunged into a full-scale battle for action at this session.

Furthermore, he has endeavored to take the issue out of the context of merely juggling tariff rates and to define it in terms of creating a more closely knit Atlantic community, which would be incomparably more powerful than the SinoSoviet world in the global civil war between the two power blocs.

These are the terms in which the American public can comprehend the stakes involved; they are the terms which alone will overcome the sectionalism and the particularized voting interests of individual House members when the showdown comes later this year. President Kennedy has constructed some rather clever methods of meeting the problem of aiding those businesses and employees who would indeed be hurt by the kind of across-the-board tariff cuts the United States must be prepared to make in dealing with the expanding Common Market.

The President has said that the Atlantic community must grow “like a coral reef.” This figure of speech denotes, however, a rate of speed considerably slower than what even the cautious President may privately accept. At any rate, he has firmly adopted the view long ago expressed by “Mr. Europe,” France’s Jean Monnet, that economic ties must come first, and that from them slowly, and in good time, will come increasing political ties.

The second team

Number-two men in any government department seldom hit the headlines. Usually their job is to stick to the desk while the top Cabinet members take the stump at home or abroad, on Capitol Hill or downtown. One exception was Douglas Dillon, now Secretary of the Treasury, during his period as numbertwo man in the State Department during the final Eisenhower years. An exception now is 52-year-old George W. Bail, who succeeded Chester Bowles as top deputy of Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Along with Roswell Gilpatric at the Pentagon and Henry Fowler at the Treasury Department, Ball is proving to be the best kind of right-hand man. Common to all of these men is long experience in government; in Ball’s case, with the Lend-Lease Administration, the Foreign Economic Administration, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, and the French Supply Council.

It was Ball’s vast knowledge of economics and his ability as an administrator while serving in the number-three spot at the State Department which got him his new post. Politically, Ball had been Adlai Stevenson’s man in Washington, a fact which did not endear him to Kennedy. But he has worked loyally in harness since joining the Administration as a chief prodder of the Europeans for more help to the underdeveloped nations, as a principal architect of the President’s new trade program, and, on occasion, as an articulate spokesman for American foreign policy.

Sufficient first-rate manpower long has been a problem in Washington. for no Cabinet member can carry all the burdens of his department. Men like Ball, Gilpatric, and Fowler have given Kennedy a second team of proven merit.

Mood of the Capital

Every President’s State of the Union message in January tends to set the tone of his Administration for the ensuing year. For several weeks before his speech, the President was showing signs of coming out of the sometimes melancholy mood which marked his first year in office. The official and public switch from last year’s “The news will be worse before it is better” to this year’s use of such words as “progress,”“success,” and “encouraging” indicates that the Administration has gotten its second wind.

Looking ahead. Administration officials say that this will be a noteworthy year if two things alone arc accomplished: the accession of Britain to the Common Market and the passage by Congress of the trade bill to permit the United States to deal with the Market; and, second, the liquidation of the Algerian war, the biggest stumbling block to eliminating the colonialism issue which has long plagued relations between the United States and its Western allies, and between the West in general and the free but underdeveloped nations.

Another factor, however, is also vitally important. The President spoke of the “extraordinary rumbles of discord [which] can be heard across the Iron Curtain.” It very well could be that the discord within the Communist bloc will be as important in the “global civil war” as the developments in the Common Market and Algeria.