The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

THERE was a great sense of relief throughout the country once the decisions were made and the world was told that the United States would impose a quarantine, in effect a selective blockade, on Communist shipments of offensive arms to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. No one knew better than President Kennedy that this move opened up a long road with no clear light at die end. That a cold winter lay ahead was freely acknowledged, a winter in which move and countermove could involve many far corners of the earth where East and West have been in conflict or measured truce.

But the important point was that the President had decided the moment had come to draw the line. “The 1930’s,” said Kennedy, “taught us a clear lesson: Aggressive conduct, if allowed to grow unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.” One must not forget Kennedy’s own personal acquaintance with those years, for he was in London, where his father was ambassador, and he wrote in 1940 a book about the period, Why England Slept.

Kennedy was acutely aware of the rise of Hitler and of the failure of the democracies to halt him when they could, at the time in 1936 when he marched unopposed into the Rhineland. Of course, the parallel is inexact, for Hitler was relatively weak then, as subsequent historical research has shown, whereas Khrushchev today controls weapons of mass destruction, even though the American weapons are greater in number and destructive power.

It has been felt in Washington for some time that the Russians did not understand the American attitude toward Cuba, that they did not realize how seriously the United States viewed the Communist penetration of that island, so close to our shores. The brash attempt to establish an offensive-missile base there demonstrated that misjudgment, and the Russians appeared astonished at the strong reaction once the facts were known through aerial reconnaissance.

But if a stand had not been taken on Cuba, it probably would have been somewhere else. Somewhere, sometime, the Khrushchev push had to be halted, the line had to be drawn. Whether Cuba was the right or wrong place is for history to decide.

The conjunction of the move against the Soviet Union over Cuba with a congressional election appears to have been accidental. Yet it was immediately clear that the move went far to satisfy the uneasy feeling across the land about Communist encroachment. October 22, 1962, is likely to have a place in history.

Time for reform in Congress

When the newly elected 88th Congress assembles in Washington in early January it will face not only the pressures of the international situation and the unfinished business left behind by its dilatory predecessor but also the need for selfreform. Whatever one may think of the output of the 87th Congress, it was a reflection of the wishes of the majority of the public, a reflection of the consensus wherever there was in fact a consensus.

What was appalling this past year — and the second year of each Congress’ two-year term is usually the crucial one — was the lack of selfdiscipline. In part this was a natural reaction to the change in leadership. The strong and longtime leadership of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson was gone. Their successors, Speaker John McCormack and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, probably could not have continued in the old style even if they had tried, which they did not. As a result, the Congress reverted to a practice of earlier days, when each committee chairman was the all-powerful baron of his realm.

The long struggle to adjourn the recent session in October centered on a prestige fight between Senate and House. Because the Constitution gives the House alone the right to originate revenue bills, the House contends that it alone can originate any appropriation bill, as well as any tax measure. This past year especially, the Senate tried to challenge this doctrine, but it did not succeed. The acrimony grew apace, enlivened by the spectacle of a personal row between the two octogenarian chairmen involved, Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona and Representative Clarence Cannon of Missouri.

For years legislative reformers have suggested that the two appropriations committees hold joint hearings, but the idea has uniformly been rejected. Few people outside of Washington seem to realize that it takes four, not just two, sets of hearings to obtain approval of any new program: an authorization hearing before the appropriate Senate and House legislative committees, followed by appropriation hearings before two other committees. The time and energy involved are immense, and the duplication is inane. Even the idea of a joint staff for comparable committees so far has found little favor.

This procedure is not the only reason the legislative mill grinds so slowly and fitfully. A major factor is the matter of rules, the congressional bylaws. The Rules Committee acts as a sort of traffic cop for the House and determines which of the many measures approved by the various standing committees will reach the House floor for a vote. It also has the power to say whether such measures will be voted on under a gag rule barring amendments, or whether an open rule is granted, under which substantive amendments can be offered. There is a good deal to be said for the traffic-cop idea as a means of controlling an unruly committee. But under Virginia’s ultraconservative Representative Howard Smith, the committee has gone too far.

The legislative committees themselves, too, are in need of reform. Some have written rules; others do not. Some allow the chairman alone to call meetings; others have regular meeting days; some permit a reasonable number of members to force a meeting over objection of the chairman. All of these variations permit of legislative high jinks, especially as the time draws near for adjournment. The wilderness bill, for example, which had passed the Senate, was killed in the House this fall by the simple expedient of the committee chairman’s going home to campaign before Congress quit.

Congressmen are often critical of the increasing power of the President and the executive branch of government. In part, at least, this is due to the dilatory tactics of Congress itself, of its failure to keep up with the times and to provide itself with enough experts in the new developments with which it must deal. The two branches will only remain coordinate as long as each knows its own business and is able to handle it expeditiously.

Congressional scorecard

The one piece of legislation which is likely to earn the 87th Congress a niche in history is the Kennedy Trade Expansion Act. This measure was designed to enable the United States to cope with the expanding European Common Market. It will take a while to see whether the legislation measures up to the high hopes it has raised, both in increasing free-world trade and in making easier the domestic American adjustment to shifting trade patterns. Congress did pass the bill with overwhelming votes, but credit is chiefly due to the President and his aides, who worked for months in advance to sell the bill to the nation — that is, to create the necessary consensus. They succeeded so well that it almost seemed un-American to vote against the bill by the time the roll calls came around.

The trade bill was the biggest success, but measures to improve the economy, especially its growth rate, were among the failures. The bill to provide a 7 percent tax credit for investment as a spur to the economy was passed, though a lot of economists think it a very unwise measure. And it got through only by elimination of the section which would have withheld taxes on dividends and interest, a proposal which was unfairly attacked as a new tax, but was actually an effort to catch tax evaders. The political barrage against it at times was a shameful example of self-interest by savings and loan institutions and some banks.

The major failures

The major failures — creation of a Department of Urban Affairs, a farm bill with controls on production to match the Treasury largess, medicare tied to the social security system—can be attributed to the fact that none of these measures had general national support. On medicare the Congress preferred to wait until the voters spoke in November.

In the field of civil rights, the Senate rejected the idea of establishing a minimum literacy test. It did pass on to the state legislatures for ratification a constitutional amendment to end the poll tax, but this very act tends to create a self-imposed limit on the legislative right to enact measures affecting qualifications for voters, a matter on which there is a major dispute as to the powers of the federal and the state legislatures.

Probably the most important failure of all was in the aid-to-education held. It is impossible to deny that much more help is necessary for schools and colleges. For years the states alone and their subdivisions provided the revenue, because the American tradition is for local control and financing of education. Since Sputnik five years ago, however, the demand for some federal revenue has mounted to the point where the local-control issue could be overcome, and the fear could be allayed that federal money inevitably meant federal control. At this point entered, first, the racial issue, and second, the religious issue. These unhappy conjunctions have succeeded in keeping federal aid to education limited to only the fringes of the problem.

All of the issues which failed will be back before the 88th or succeeding Congresses, until the social or economic problems involved are somehow solved. Some bills once rejected will be passed on another try. Some will never make it, but other means, other methods of financing will be found. Perhaps the aid to education can be provided indirectly by pumping into the states a larger share of federal revenue for noncontroversia! projects, which in turn would free hard-pressed state treasury funds for schools and colleges.

Civil rights through the courts

While progress through legislation on the civil rights front has been minimal, progress via the courts has been considerable. The effect of the crisis in Mississippi, however it may have embarrassed the United States abroad, is not likely to be confined to Ole Miss. If the Kennedy Administration in the end succeeds in keeping Negro student James Meredith in the university until graduation and others do follow him there, that will be a gain in itself. And if this does happen, it should have a salutary effect in the two remaining states where the segregation front has yet to be broken — Alabama and South Carolina.

There was a lot of talk in the Capital, naturally enough, after the rioting at Oxford, Mississippi, that the federal government should establish some sort of priority system for proceeding with school integration, preferably beginning at the college and postgraduate level. However, the choice is not up to the government. The Supreme Court ruling called for “all deliberate speed” in desegregating the schools and left the federal district courts the problem of applying that principle in each specific case. Since the courts act on cases brought before them, the Administration cannot maneuver a solution.

In many cases, as in the Meredith affair, the government became a party to the issue only after it was well along in the courts. The same is true of the cases involving primary and secondary schools. The issue differs from case to case, depending partly on mere chance or on the form of resistance to desegregation by local boards or state officials.

Attorney General Kennedy has tried by federal action in the courts to encourage Negro voting in the South on the well-founded assumption that enfranchised Negroes are the best weapons to enforce racial equality. That this is valid is evident from what has been going on in Georgia, where increasing Negro voting, in urban areas especially, has come at a time when the courts have wiped out the invidious countyunit system of voting.

No Southern congressman missed the point in the defeat of ultraconservative Representative James Davis, whose district includes Atlanta — a defeat in which Negro votes played a key role. As more Negroes vote, officeholders will have to trim their sails by abandoning race baiting or else face defeat. It will take time, but the trend is evident and irreversible.