The Congress of 1938, in its own words: Defending separated powers in the face of Party pressure to consolidate power

As originally posted in the reader-diary section of; the post’s 2009 comment thread is available at that link.

The federal legislators quoted herein, excerpted from a bygone Congressional era of genuine floor debate – an era that predates the destructive influence of the corporate-funded television ad election campaign – were broadcasting early warning signals to the nation, about how the increasingly-centralized, consolidated power and control of the modern Political Party, when wielded by the White House over Congress, represents a clear and present danger to our Constitution’s separation of powers.

“Increasingly” centralized, in that not until 1899 (in the House) and the early 1900s (in the Senate) did the position of “Majority/Minority Leader” – Party positions focused solely on a Party agenda – come into existence in our federal legislature. The Democratic Party led the way in both cases, followed shortly thereafter by the Republican Party:

Soon after Democrats took control of the Senate in 1913, they began to suffer from poor attendance at their party caucus meetings. Party leaders had decided to make key decisions on the Democratic administration’s legislative priority “tariff reduction” in [secret] caucus rather than in the [public] Finance Committee. This would allow Democrats to achieve a party position on politically sensitive tariff rates before confronting the Republican minority. Poor caucus attendance by those favoring tariff reduction, however, gave greater weight to Louisiana’s two Democrats who vigorously supported high protective tariffs on imported sugar. Additional defections would have risked letting these senators significantly undermine the party’s commitment to lower tariffs.

Of course, it’s one thing to attempt to enforce obedience to a Party line within Congress itself, using legislative whips and secret balloting, in pursuit of a genuine, well-known, accepted Party platform pledged to the voters during a campaign, to which all Party members essentially subscribe. [Though even this much enforced order obviously compromises the independent action and responsibility of our representatives, and dangerously empowers a select few, absent Party disagreements, in addition to entrenching a Party-created divide in our Congress that should be lessened, not deepened, if democratic debate in the greater public interest, with a minimum of close-minded partisan and parochial factionalism and gamesmanship, is our objective.]

The situation I’m focused on here, however, is that of the insidious modern phenomenom of a President who can successfully (and secretly) demand obedience in a Congress of the same Party, to the President’s preferred policy “agenda” in the name of Party loyalty. That is carrying consolidated Party power too far to preserve representative self-government, as the Bush years so dramatically demonstrated, and it dishonors and eviscerates the Constitutional division of power demanded by the American form of government. We do not have a Parliament, with a Prime Minister. We have an independent Legislative Branch of government. And though our democracy-hostile national media won’t honor or explain the difference, we must, if we mean to retain our liberty and to restore our ability to self-govern, by reforming the decrepit practices of our modern federal legislature.

To put it another way, thanks to mcjoan @ Dailykos liveblogging Howard Dean’s closing comment at Netroots Nation Friday: The Constitution’s indispensable division of power between the Legislative and Executive Branches is violated and dismantled if the nation, its media, Congress and/or President insist that – in the name of Party loyalty (Democratic or Republican), rather than merit, on the medical insurance reform issue, or any other issue – The Democratic Congress needs to support the Democratic President [-H. Dean] (and the crowd goes wild!)”

Because such a Party-centric view of self-government is how our federal legislature, after many years of increasingly-irresponsible behavior in the name of Party, became what it is today, under both Republicans and Democrats: an after-thought rump of an institution that has been thoroughly subordinated to the President and his appointed men in the name of Party power, rather than good government or Constitutional order. And it’s how a President can secretly hijack and hold hostage, with the help of a few Congressional Party bosses, the entire legislative process of Congress. A presidential hijacking which appears to be exactly what is happening to today’s vital medical insurance reform debate, which has been allowed, by Congress and the media, to be defined and easily demonized as about Obama’s dictated program, rather than a program democratically promulgated by the representatives of the American people in their Congress.

A federal legislature in which our power, temporarily held by our elected Representatives and Senators, is voluntarily ceded to a mere handful of powerful Party bosses, who, behind closed doors, direct outcomes, and trade favors, according to their unspoken, risk-averse agenda – now usually dictated by the Party’s corporate funders – from atop an undemocratic Congressional hierarchy, or, as today, from the private chambers of the President’s White House, completely apart from the Legislative Branch itself.

The most inexcusable and destructive result of such legislative dereliction of duty – that of the unconscionable ceding to the President of the fearsome Constitutional Congressional power to send this nation to war, and to keep it there, or not, absent clear objectives (damningly demonstrated by our completely-unsupervised-by-Congress current foreign military interventions which have been funded upon request, but deliberately not overseen by Congress for almost a decade now) – was a subject at least still publicly referenced and seriously debated in our legislative chambers, back in 1938.

Seriously debated, as evidenced by the comments [transcribed from the Congressional Record of the 75th Congress for April, 1938] of Senator Gerald Nye, Republican of North Dakota, among others, during debate on defense spending and war preparation, with the threat of WWII looming, and the memory of WWI still fresh (some of its veterans sitting in Congress):

Mr. President, I was speaking of what might be done to afford a more adequate national defense without great outlay to the people of the United States. I spoke first of the necessity of taking the element of profit out of war; then of taking the motive of profit out of the game of preparing for war. If we want a further adequacy in our national defense, the Congress would be wise to take up where the House left off and give consideration to that clause which would let a certain question in the future be determined by all the people, rather than by only a few of us who might be under the utmost pressure at the moment. I have reference to what has commonly been referred to as the Ludlow proposal amendment to the Constitution, an amendment which would give to the people a voice in determining when again our country should engage in another foreign war.


[The sponsors] are men and women who under certain conditions would not only rally to the defense of their country if it were under attack; but they are men and women who deeply resent the idea that in this advanced day and age it is possible for a mere handful of men in these United States to move 130,000,000 people into a cause that may not be of their choosing, of their making in any degree, in any way, in any shape, or in any manner.


America’s first obligation, if only to herself, is to cease the game of arming the rest of the world in such a way as better to prepare other nations to attack us and make trouble for us at some time in the future. I insist that the program of putting an end to supplying foreign requirements for armaments, and the other steps I have proposed, are essential to any reasonable program of national defense.

And there was “bipartisan” concern for Congressional prerogatives in those days, as Democratic Senators Joel Clark of Missouri and Homer Bone of Washington, among others, joined the debate:

Mr. Clark. [Democratic Senator of MO] What I object to, Mr. President, in connection with the pending bills, is officers of the Army and officers of the Navy, who should be the servants of the Congress, undertaking to determine the foreign policy of the United States, and the policy of the United States with regard to the occupation of the Philippine Islands, or any other place. It it the business of the War Department and the Navy Department to be the servants of the Congress, and not the business of the Navy Department and the War Department to be forming foreign policy or domestic policy, except regarding matters of strategy and matters of equipment.

Mr. Bone. [Democratic Senator of WA] Mr. President, the trouble is that every time the Congress of the United States has the nerve to suggest that it might lay down a rule, we are reproached for it. Is this a parliamentary government? Has representative government so far perished in America, that it is looked upon as an offense against our country for Congress to even propose some sort of a statement of policy about things that lead to war?

But aside from the desperately-urgent, unresolved problem of abandoned Congressional war powers being foreshadowed then, another hot 1938 issue is notable for the remarkable elements it shares with today’s medical insurance reform debate (including a Democratic President with an ambitious legislative “agenda” and overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate), and below I transcribe some lengthy portions of that debate in the House of Representatives (which still had genuine debates in their chamber that lasted for days) over S. 3331, the proposed Executive Branch reorganization bill favored by President Roosevelt, and narrowly passed by the Senate.

First, though, highlighting the current deplorable state of affairs in our underground and undemocratic White House-run Congress, which the sentiments expressed by the still-principled federal representatives of 1938 warned against, are these very recent, all-too-clear reports in the New York Times about the corruption of the legislative process caused by White House interference:

Mr. Obama and his top aides have immersed themselves in the Senate Finance Committee process. The president talks to Mr. Baucus several times a week, people briefed on their conversations say. Mr. Obama has also held a few calls with the panel’s ranking Republican, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

In addition, Mr. Obama invited both senators to a private lunch at the White House early in the summer and met with six panel members for another White House session last week. White House advisers have held long evening and weekend meetings with Finance Committee staff members, even poring over copies of the Tax Code together.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, charged with leading the White House health effort, has a standing biweekly meeting with Mr. Baucus, while Peter R. Orszag, the White House budget director, has spent so much time in the senator’s office that he helps himself to the Coke Zeros tucked away in Mr. Baucus’s personal refrigerator.

Lobbyists for both the drug and hospital industries say that, as early as June, White House officials directed them to work out cost-saving deals with Mr. Baucus’s committee.

Drug industry lobbyists said they negotiated a deal to contribute $80 billion over 10 years toward the cost of an overhaul with Mr. Baucus, under White House supervision, before taking it to the president for final approval.

[Of course, as mcjoan at DailyKos has repeatedly pointed out with spot-on precision, the unauthorized Baucus Committee is in no way composed of the actual Senate Finance Committee, and all regular order, and public, democratic debate in the latter has been imperiously thrown out the window, at the behest of Baucus, Harry Reid and the White House.]

Whatever intrigue exists inside the White House, Mr. Emanuel, who once dreamed of becoming House speaker, spends as much time monitoring the intrigue on Capitol Hill.

When the House was taking up a war spending bill in June, Mr. Emanuel noticed a Republican ally had yet to vote. With one minute left on the vote clock, he called the ally, Representative Peter T. King of New York. “There’s only one minute to go in the vote,” Mr. Emanuel said into voicemail. “I’m waiting for you.”

Mr. King, who did vote for the bill, laughed as he recounted the story. “I had this crazy guy from the White House watching me,” he said.


Then Mr. Emanuel called more than 20 members of Congress. “He’s been so good to me, when he said, ‘We need you on [the F-22 amendment],’ I said fine,” recalled a Democratic senator who asked not to be identified describing a private conversation.


To say [Emanuel] has inserted himself into the heart of negotiations with Congress might understate it. When Mr. Obama spoke with Congressional leaders last month to get an update on health care before heading overseas, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, asked, “But Rahm is going to stay here, right?”

Where are the words to condemn this wholesale disruption and subversion by the Executive Branch, and its Congressional enablers, of the supposedly-independent, legislative process of lawmaking by our representatives?? Though such presidential aggrandizement at the expense of the representatives of the people is not a new phenomenon or impulse (just ask the Founders), it has obviously been taken to increasingly-dangerous heights, as even former Clinton administration cabinet officer Robert Reich is warning us:

[…] I’m appalled by the deal the White House has made with the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying arm to buy their support.


But I also care about democracy, and the deal between Big Pharma and the White House frankly worries me. It’s bad enough when industry lobbyists extract concessions from members of Congress, which happens all the time. But when an industry gets secret concessions out of the White House in return for a promise to lend the industry’s support to a key piece of legislation, we’re in big trouble. That’s called extortion: An industry is using its capacity to threaten or prevent legislation as a means of altering that legislation for its own benefit. And it’s doing so at the highest reaches of our government, in the office of the President.

When the industry support comes with an industry-sponsored ad campaign in favor of that legislation, the threat to democracy is even greater.


We’re on a precarious road — and wherever it leads, it’s not toward democracy.

Representatives in the 75th Congress passionately explained why this Party-power-driven abandonment of legislative prerogative and Constitutional dispersion of federal power is so dangerous to self-government and representative democracy – and thus, by implication, to a publicly-supported genuine reform of our medical insurance system among many other issues. Those Representatives were dealing with another Democratic president – FDR – who was seeking efficiency, and perhaps a personal legacy, in preference to the slow-churning democratic process, with his Executive Branch agency reorganization bill.

A reorganization bill, while the economic depression was re-worsening, which caused a political and Constitutional uproar in the land, not unlike the (real or fabricated) uproar we are seeing today with regard to medical insurance reform. One huge difference: Members of Congress still listened to their constituents – if not more than their Party bosses, probably at least as much as to their Party bosses, on the whole. And they knew how to debate, and did debate, on the House floor. And, of course, legislators had to be in their respective chambers if they wanted to hear or participate in the debate as it happened, as opposed to monitoring speakers and floor action from their private offices via a television feed and blackberries, as is now the lamentable norm.

Transcribed from the Congressional Record of the 75th Congress, 3rd Session, of April, 1938, first, here’s a loyal Democratic Party soldier in the House [akin to a Jim Moran today on medical insurance reform, as related by letsgetitdone’s Friday account]:

Mr. Ford of California. President after President has requested Congress for the authority to do this. But partisan opposition, combined with pressure from groups opposed to any change, have prevented action.

President Roosevelt has asked for the authority to regroup, coordinate, and consolidate Federal agencies in the interest of efficiency and economy.

This effort to eliminate overlapping and duplication of agencies has been seized by the [Republican] minority and by the unfriendly press, supported by Wall Street, and made to appear as an attempt on the part of the President to seize power that properly belongs to Congress.


Dictatorship! Yes, there is a danger of dictatorship in this country. The would-be dictators are the minority which has become so determined to block the will of the people as expressed at the polls, that it is resorting to outrageous misrepresentation, to concerted attacks on every suggestion made by the President and to paid propaganda intended to confuse and frighten the people.

In this group of would-be dictators who are determined to rule or ruin are the Power Trust and their bemused followers; the small but powerful group of industrial magnates whose strike against taxation is largely responsible for the recession; the economic royalists, who, having amassed great fortunes along with the financial control of huge corporations that threaten free government, defy Congress to touch them through taxation, regulation, Federal incorporation, or by any other method.


That explains the attack on the reorganization bill. It was proposed by the President. Therefore it must be defeated. Such a defeat, they think, will be a blow to the prestige of the President, it will encourage all who oppose him, it will with other similar attacks enable the minority – which carried two States in the last national election – to control legislation, to stop the New Deal, to get the power back in their hands.


Furthermore, I am glad to reaffirm my faith in Roosevelt and my belief in his program to bring opportunity to all the people of this great country.


This Congress should not adjourn until the liberal program advocated by the President and by the people is put through.

Followed by an argument on the merits:

Mr. Bacon. [Republican of New York, who died suddenly later that year] This reorganization bill has become an incident in a much larger picture. The people of this country have intuitively sensed this fact. The sensible men and women of America have been viewing with alarm the continued abdication by Congress and the continued granting to the President of increased powers, many of them legislative in type. The people realize that the Congress is their Congress, and they do not like to see the only representatives that they directly vote for give away powers imposed upon them by the Constitution. They view this reorganization bill as the capstone of a series of acts on the part of the Congress abdicating its power. The defeat of the reorganization bill, therefore, has become symbolic; the people feel that if this reorganization bill is defeated that the Congress will have finally called a halt on the building up of the executive at the expense of the legislative branch of the Government. And once this halt is called the people hope that the Congress will again begin to reassert itself and take back some of the emergency powers already granted to the Chief Executive. They sense the fact that there is involved in this reorganization bill the whole question of constitutional government.

They are reminded that the Constitution provides for a division of powers between three coordinate branches of the Government, each one independent in its own sphere. They have an acute awareness of what Justice Brandeis declared in one of his opinions, that –

“The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Constitution of 1787, not to promote efficiency, but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power.”

They realize that the wise theory of government set up by the Constitution must not be disturbed if the American form of government is to continue. They do not want their Congress, that they elect every 2 years, to deliberately subordinate itself to the Executive.”

And another of that now-extinct breed of Republican:

Mr. Gifford. [Republican of Massachusetts] The Boileau amendment is the only amendment that really protects our rights, because it demands affirmative and complete action on what the President may determine [with regard to reorganization]. With only a 60-day period to pass a [disapproving] concurrent resolution, under the rules of the other body, [the Senate] could bicker away 60 days easily and, of course, the recommendations of the President would be rubber-stamped in any Congress such as we have had during the last few years. This preservation of our legislative jurisdiction is the issue in this amendment. The idea that we might disapprove by concurrent resolution of the exercise of the power we freely give the President was clearly shown to be worthless.


Let us kill this back-handed method of protecting ourselves, when there is a direct method, the usual method of affirmative approval, not simply a possible vote of disapproval.


To my mind it smacks of stubbornness in trying to give to the Executive opportunity to get away from the Congress by the back door. This surrender of power is the heart of this bill.

And then three more Democrats, conscientiously explaining the insidious inversion of power being proposed – the first use of a “legislative veto,” of the same sort casually resorted to by the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress just last fall, with regard to the dispensation of the second half of the hundreds of billions of dollars of TARP funding:

Mr. Pettengill. [Democrat of Indiana] That is the first thing that prevents this House from acting in the matter, the fact that the resolution of disapproval may be buried in the committee [of jurisdiction]. Let us assume, however, that it is brought out on the floor, a resolution disapproving Executive Order No. 100 as against the public interest. If the House disapproves it by a unanimous vote, 435 Members, that does not end the matter, because the disapproval requires the concurrence of the Senate; and although we have disapproved it by unanimous vote it goes over to the Senate, and if by one more than one-half of the Senate they refuse to disappove it the Executive order goes into effect.


This calls for a resolution of disapproval, not a resolution of approval.


Mr. Sabath. [Democrat of IL] But let us say that 435 Members of the House voted for a bill. If that bill fails to receive a majority vote in the Senate it dies and becomes of no effect. Is not that true?

Mr. Pettengill. In that event the legislative act fails to go into effect because a majority is opposed to it but here a legislative act delegated to the President goes into effect although it is unanimously disapproved by the House of Representatives. In one case a majority may act. But here a majority of the people’s representatives are powerless to act. This is minority rule, an abandonment of every sound principle of our government.


Mr. Rabaut. [Democrat of MI] The ordinary bill becomes nothing if it is defeated in one body, but under this bill the Executive order becomes something if disapproval is defeated in one branch of Congress.

Mr. Pettengill. That is right. That says it in a nutshell.

A further Republican argument on the merits:

Mr. Clason. [Republican of Massachusetts] Reorganization of the vast system of our established Federal bureaucracy is certainly desirable, where its object is to increase efficiency and to reduce waste and extravagance, but this bill is not designed to accomplish these desired ends. Even its strongest proponents admit that no savings will be accomplished under this bill. It must be obvious to the dispassionate observer that the sole intent of this bill is to place the control of all these departments in the hands of the President, in order that he may have his will over them, and by the imposition of that will set up a vast political machine whose function it will be to perpetuate the New Deal in office. This bill in unAmerican and undemocratic in its inception and in its purpose. Every Member of this House who believes in our established form of government, and who wishes to protect it from those who would destroy it, should vote against this bill.

And then a Republican reached back to the sources that inspired many of the authors of our own Constitution, and an early, highly-respected American Senator, to make his points:

Mr. Church. [Republican of Illinois] It was indeed fortunate that the parliamentary alertness of the shrewd Missouri Member of the other body prevented the administration’s attempt to send the reorganization proposal to conference without giving this body an opportunity to have this discussion.


In order that I may better emphasize the importance of the system of checks, balances, and separation of powers in this Government, I take the liberty to call your attention to the words of men who occupy a place of greatness in the development of democratic thought and whose ideas of government are embodied in our system. After 20 years of study, Montesquieu published his monumental book in 1748 called “The Spirit of Laws.” In a year and a half it passed through 22 editions. It has been read by every thinking man in the world. The theory of government embodied in that epoch-making volume guided our forefathers as they sought to establish here a Government which would preserve for the people their inalienable rights as free men in a free land. Montesquieu wrote:

“When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.”

The import of those words, Mr. Chairman, is simply this: To have a free government and a free people, legislative and executive powers should be kept separate. This bill, Mr. Chairman, would vest legislative powers in the Executive.

About 12 years later, Rousseau published his book entitled “The Social Compact.” This volume also dealt with methods of government by which freedom of all people could be maintained. It also had a profound influence upon those who established our system. He wrote:

“If he who rules men ought not to control legislation, he who controls legislation ought not to rule men; otherwise his laws, being ministers of his passions, would often serve only to perpetuate his acts of injustice; he would never be able to prevent private interests from corrupting the sacredness of his work.”

The import of those words, Mr. Chairman, is that no man who administers the laws, however wise, however honest, and however great he may be, should be given the power to make the laws he administers. This bill would do just that!

Daniel Webster was one of the greatest Senators the United States has ever had. He was always a great defender of the rights of man. I wish to quote from the speech he made on May 7, 1834, in order to emphasize again how important it is that we allow nothing, however small, to upset the system of checks and balances upon which this Government rests. [Senator Webster] said:

“The first object of a free people is the preservation of their liberty; and liberty is only to be preserved by maintaining constitutional restraints and just divisions of political power. Nothing is more deceptive or more dangerous than the pretense of a desire to simplify government. The simplest governments are despotisms; the next simplest, limited monarchies; but all republics, all governments of law, must impose numerous limitations and qualifications of authority, and give many positive and many qualified rights. * * * Every free government is necessarily complicated, because all such governments establish restraints, as well on the power of government itself as on that of individuals. If we will abolish the distinction of branches, and have but one branch; if we will abolish jury trials, and leave all to the judge; if we will then ordain that the legislator shall himself be that judge; and if we will place the executive power in the same hands, we may readily simplify government. We may easily bring it to the simplest of all possible forms, a pure despotism. But a separation of departments, so far as practicable, and the preservation of clear lines of division between them, is the fundamental idea in the creation of all our constitutions; and, doubtless, the continuance of regulated liberty depends on maintaining these boundaries.


Perhaps the President may more easily and efficiently carry out the work of reorganization if given unlimited authority to do so. But, I am not willing to take any step which would amount to a departure from democratic principles where liberty is at stake and where alleged efficiency is the only reason for that step. It seems to me that, by careful procedure, we can accomplish the efficiency objective and at the same time through proper restrainst preserve the prerogatives of Congress.


It is not a question of trusting the President as an individual. Rather it is a question as to whether we believe this democracy is worth preserving. If it is – and I am sure every Member here believes that it is – then we must exercise care that at all times we retain restraints upon the possible exercise of arbitrary power.

Then, as the debate began to close, the Democratic Majority Leader gave his version of the modern-day power-and-president-worshipping, Congress-as-illicit-Parliament party line:

Mr. Rayburn. [of Texas] Is it possible that we want to send the message to the country tonight, even though we have the President in the White House for 2 years and 8 months longer, that this is a leaderless land? The President of the United States is the voice of America, if America has any leader at all. He is the leader in America, if America has any leader at all. Do we want to send to the people of America tonight the message that Democrats, joining with Republicans, have in effect voted a lack of confidence in that leader and have by their message said that he is no longer the leader of this country? [Applause.]

To which Mr. Connor, Democrat of New York immediately and courageously replied:

Mr. Chairman, let us try to be calm, please. I do not believe the issue of supporting the President enters into this situation at all. If it does, as I said the other day, I want anybody here to compare his record with mine in supporting the great President who now leads our Government.


This bill is an attempt to compel Congress to surrender its rights.


Now, do not say that anybody on this side is playing with the Republicans. The Republicans can be right. They can be right on a great fundamental governmental issue. I submit to you that some of the outstanding and the older Democratic Members of this House are against this bill. They are friendly to our President and our party; they love the great President of this country, but they also love their party.


Let me say with all the love I bear for my President, with the debt to my party, to which I owe everything, to my Democratic colleagues, every one of whom I respect and love, this fundamental issue is way above party. It is way above the individual Representative. It is the biggest issue I have ever seen in my life, and I have seen many an issue here in my 15 years in this body.

Whereupon, the House Speaker, William Bankhead, Democrat of AL, weighed in, picking up and fear-mongering where the majority leader left off:

But say what you please, and there is no escape from it, this proposition has been jockeyed into the position in the public prints and by the enemies of the Democratic President and the Democratic President that a vote against this bill and a vote to recommit it would be a repudiation out of the whole cloth of the confidence of the American people in our President and of the Democratic Party. [Applause.]


You defeat this bill, and it has got to be done by Democratic votes if defeated, and watch the reaction in the public prints tomorrow, watch the editorials, and watch the headlines blazing across the papers all over this country – and God knows this administration has a press in this country in large measure which is not friendly to it – and you will see these words streaming across all those newspapers and in heavy type in the columns of the columnists:

House of Representatives by Democratic votes has repudiated the President of the United States and has expressed the opinion that they cannot rely upon him to carry out the rather negative provisions of this reorganization bill.

[…] I want to reiterate that I have not lost my confidence in our Chief Executive. [Applause.] The people of this country…have said “We have confidence in the man in the White House, we have confidence in his character, in his objectives, in his policies.”

I would be the last man in the world to assert that he has made no mistakes. […] We are all fallible in our judgement. …[B]ut I do believe in my heart of hearts that the great multitude of the American people…still believe in him and still trust him. [Applause.]

The vote then took place on the Republican motion to recommit, and, to the great credit of the legislators of 1938, the motion passed, 204 to 196, with 29 not voting, despite the Democratic majority of 338 to 88 (plus 8 Progressives and 5 Farmer-Labor), and the heavy Party pressure brought to bear by President Roosevelt to go along to get along.

That ended the reorganization bill for that session of Congress. But, contrary to the fearful predictions of its proponents, the bill was not gone for good, and the nation and its president somehow managed to persevere, in the meantime, despite its failure to pass. Over time, Roosevelt and Congress reworked the bill and it made its way, with significant changes, through the following year’s Congress, with a sunset provision. One of the longstanding changes wrought by the eventual reorganization law was Roosevelt’s creation of the “Executive Office of the President.” As opponents had accurately foreseen, not one of the Roosevelt reorganizations created by executive order under the law was disapproved before implementation, by the Democratic majorities of Congress, via ‘legislative veto’ (concurrent resolution). When the sunset was reached in 1941, Congress allowed the law to lapse.

Does any of this tell us how to succeed at enacting genuine medical insurance reform? Well, for starters, although raw Party power often gets its way at the expense of democratic process, and occasionally that approach happens to result in benefits to the nation as a whole (a result many thought/hoped Obama and Emanuel’s strong-arming of Congress would bring us), we, the people, have no say in the private councils of White House-wielded Party power, and must demand open government and regular order in our Congress, to avoid arbitrary rule, and to retain a voice in our own government.

By that yardstick, the relatively-impressive, relatively-regular order, open legislative process – which considered and adopted hundreds of Republican and Democratic amendments – that was followed by the Senate HELP Committee and the three House committees absolutely deserves Congressional priority over the backroom deals of the informal, infamous Baucus Committee. All federal legislators, and their constituents, ought to insist that their Congressional floor leaders (in the House, and with white-hot focus on White House Waterboy Harry Reid) honor and respect regular, open legislative process, and repudiate White House-dictated outcomes, both now, and in the shamefully-secret final conferencing process to come.

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