A Federal Case II; 4; Four Angry Congressmen
This is a federal case from Washington D.C. the National Educational radio network brings you an examination of current issues facing our nation and its capital city. Here is an E.R. and correspondent Jeff came up in the House of Representatives the average age of the 10 most powerful committee chairman is 74. And three of them are over 80. Now these men of course are the reactionary racist Southern conservatives. Listen your the system means the composition of the house is comprised of people who are not of this era. The Congress isn't doing anything. That. Hired. Seniority. My speech is. Nothing nothing. Nothing nothing. Nothing. Progressive members of the United States House of Representatives are crossing party lines in an attempt at shaking the cobwebs out of the con for the Public Information Center in
Washington D.C. This is Jeff came in with four angry Congressman the terrible crime of the seniority system right at the moment is that almost every piece of reform legislation is locked up in a committee or by a committee chairman who is in his 70s or is a decent Congressman Paul McCloskey Republican California. If you look at the top 25 corporations of the United States the biggest corporations of whom presumably their shareholders require the greatest ability at the top. The average age is 58 in the House of Representatives the average age of the 10 most powerful committee chairman is 74. And three of them are over 80. We have government operations a committee in charge of all efficiency and economy in the federal government. The committee chairman is 83. We have the Committee on Science and Astronautics the committee chairman I believe is 79. The way it is now the Democrats are in the majority. But a good many of the so-called Democrats really are Democrats and all their people who vote
against the Democratic programs are national Democratic programs much more than they vote for them and in fact a good many of these people who by seniority who have come to have special powers chairmen of folk committees or subcommittees vote against Democratic programs more than most Republicans. Believe it or not Congressman Richard BOLLING Democrat Missouri now these men of course are the reactionary racist Southern conservatives people who just where the label Democratic because of historical accident but are Democrats in the way they think they're out of tune with their party all the problems of the country that we're discussing from Vietnam through repressive intrusions and the coachman's on the Bill of Rights reflect the seniority system because the seniority system means that the composition of the House leadership at least those who hold power is comprised of people who are not of this era who don't see what's
going on in this country today and haven't seen what's going on in this country for a number of years really. They came into the house at a time when the problems of the country many of. Them were economic problems were in the economic revolution of rows about which was a necessary and idealistic thing but it's nothing like a social revolution. And so if your concepts of progressive reform for the country are dealing with the problems of the country or dealing with the economic problems of the country you really aren't. You really aren't aware of what's happening outside the thick walls of this capital. And what's even more sad. You don't really care because they're very comfortable here. I don't mean there are evil men at all but they really get to believe that this system and their attitudes toward life are the real things of life. And that's a seniority system. Congressman Jerome Waldie Democrat California the judicial branch of the Warren court quite clearly underwent change and growth and
brought about orderly changes in the country. But the the legislative branch doesn't change anything. We just sit here and all the problems of the country that require our active participation. Number one don't get it. Or even worse they come to a screeching halt when we're seeking resolutions of the problems they come to the Congress and they're sitting in some subcommittee or some committee chairman who just doesn't believe in these things he believes these things are bad for the country because he believes that I and 433 others in the House of Representatives are stuck with his decision because a seniority system permits him to make those incredibly. Authoritative and autocratic decisions without submitting it to me for ratification I'm just one of four hundred thirty four members he is the you have 435. He's the committee chairman. That's not my problem with seniority it's not just the way that it
sets out younger members some terms of their service to Congress. It's the way that it just sort of glorify status quo always and as a way of life. Congressman Abner Mikva Democrat Illinois you you make sure that the people who run the Congress are the people who have. Made the least waves during their. Racial career. These people. Profit from the seniority system their section profits from the seniority system and they rise to be Chairman of Committees like the Armed Services Committee. Mendel Rivers who may be a fine representative of Charleston South Carolina
now occupies a position of chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. And his point of view certainly isn't the point of view of the Democratic Party as a whole on the problem of the armed services. He's one of the people who when Secretary of Defense McNamara was trying to hold down the military expenditures was insisting on giving McNamara more than he wanted. Was insisting on taking the point of view of a military service not even the whole of the military. For example right now he is bringing to the floor of the house a piece of legislation that will provide for three submarines to be loaned really for all practical purposes given to the Republic of China. Now you'd think he would get the clearance of the administration. He hasn't. He doesn't even claim to have had it I questioned him in the Rules Committee on the subject and he said no he didn't have a clear approval of the administration the administration had proposed this. He did not even the Department of Defense had proposed it. He said the Navy was all
for it and he is sort of in a situation where he's allowed to dominate his committee. He's allowed to dominated for two reasons one because we stick to the seniority system which makes him chairman too because the members on the Democratic side of his committee with some very honorable and important exceptions go along with him because he can do them favors. The exceptions include a most remarkable man a Democrat from Long Island Otis Pike who's been fighting rivers for years with more or less success. But the basic reason that Rivers can get away with this kind of situation where he has dominant power are on this question of submarines unless we can get the administration to fight him. He also has dominant power in the draft. Last year I led a fight to try to open up the whole draft act to a review in the Congress as I think it clearly should have been done when they were proposing to provide for a lottery system which I recall
was a an advance but we've already found out it was just a minor advance that it hasn't cleared up as people hoped it would the. The question of when will a person be asked to go if he's asked to go. In other words we haven't gotten a certain day for individuals as to what their situation is. Even the lottery has done that there are many other revisions that need to be made. Rivers fought successfully against my effort to open up the debate and the amendment of the bill to a wide range of corrections that need to be made leaving out the whole question of the volunteer army if we ever do really get to rap and in effect said that he was going to have hearings careful consideration of the draft this year. Well the indications are now that he is going to live up to that commitment. He's going to be able to somehow dominate the situation by his position on armed services that we may not even be able this year to get a real
review of that. You have to act a real consideration of a very important matter. The terrible problem is that the public is apathetic enough about whom they send to the Congress that what a man once he is elected particularly from the south or one of the big cities of the north. He's there for life particularly in the one party areas the Democratic Party. And since he doesn't get power until he achieves seniority he tends to stay there until he dies. So you've got three problems you've got the voter willing to send a man no matter what his age is to the Congress. The instinct of a human being once he has power to keep it and the sonority system that he doesn't get power until he's been here 35 years and the combination of those three guarantees that the House of Representatives will be unresponsive to changing priorities the demands of new problems new circumstances new people as the government progresses and until we change this in your system the Congress of the United States is not going to be responsive to people's problems and people's needs. The answer is not just. Replacing a
specific set of chairman with some other specific set of Cerberus placing a specific speaker with some other speaker it is recreating in Congress the kind of of an initiative that they used to have before. One of my beloved heroes Franklin D Roosevelt started taking the power from the legislative branch to the executive branch. It was dangerous then. At least we had strong leadership in the White House so that it was less dangerous than we may get a kind of passive mantle that you have under an Eisenhower or perhaps even Nixon. At that point you know ended up with the only action being repressive action and anything like that would. Probably not happening. I'm less catalyst e-commerce a branch of government again and there won't be any movement in the country. This is the real trouble with seniority or as I call it seedy ality. And I I
worry not only that as they say that the wrong people the old people are running the Congress and the wrong people running the Congress but that the Congress isn't doing anything and it's that part of seniority that must be changed. One of the great problems as to why we have the system why everybody's been going along and people are going along less and less is that for a long long time people believed that this was something handed down to the founding fathers perhaps by the good Lord and that this was immutable and it couldn't be changed and it was just the only way you could do it.
Want to sound like I. Rap in the press but it still remains an absolute fact that hoss reform will not occur within the house. There is no reason to reform in the house everybody's got their comfortable little piece of this action and reform means their little comfortable piece of action is going to be jeopardized. So the numbers aren't here to reform. It'll only happen when the public demands that the public will only demand it when they get a look at it. When the public understands how absurd this institution is they will demand reform. I've talked to some of the fellows in the media and some of them tell me they have a seniority system within their. Media also and that those who cover Washington have been here a long time and they feel it's kind of comfortable they understand the system and they're a little bit alarmed at proposals to change the status quo because and they're going to have to really learn the system and find new contacts. I don't know if that so. I think it's part of it. Someone also suggested if we permitted.
If we change the sports page of any major paper and put all the sports writers covering the Capitol and all the capital writers covering sports events this institution will be better understood then they would they would report the House of Representatives in sporting terms of the silver maned chairman of the the great committee gained 40 yards or was thrown for a loss and the people were really thrown for a loss and if they reported the House of Representatives like a report a football game it might be more understandable to the public and it has to be humanized before the public can understand Bisan human eyes now. He had all the defects are really human defects. Another example of the special interest impact of seniority on our critical problem is the problem of hunger. That largely has depended on a very very conservative committee the Committee on Agriculture which is degenerated to the point where it doesn't even represent American agriculture. It is composed of people who represent
crops or even parts of crops for example not many people know that there are several kinds of peanuts and there's a great rivalry between Virginia peanuts and peanuts that run on the ground like a vine and you've got all kinds of special interests of the now always sort in there. Now they're interested in seeing that their particular crop or the producer of their crop benefits from federal programs but they aren't very interested in seeing to it the people that are hungry get fed and they have been most on sympathetic until very recently and delayed for years. The programs that those of us who knew of hunger for all this time knew could be developed to use these tremendous agricultural abilities that we have. And the Committee on Agriculture is a classic outrage dominated by people who worry about Cotton who worry about Corn who worry about peanuts but don't worry about people and what good is cotton corner peanuts unless people
use them. And that country's been spending billions of dollars in agricultural supports which haven't helped people. Let me. Be. Very. Clear meaning. The. Only. Way.
The area of education over and over and over again on the committee on which I served and have served for years. The chairman of that committee slowed up killed destroyed defeated in the committee by refusing to allow bills to come to the floor. The hope of years before we finally began to act on federal aid to education of having federal aid education anybody with good sense is known for 40 years that we had to have federal aid to education. It's only in the last few years that we've gotten started and the chairman the former chairman of the Committee on Rules killed more education bills that all the rest of the people of the United States using his power there. The same kind of thing. Not so much in the House of Representatives but the same kind of thing in the United States Senate has been. Terribly destructive of our ability to move forward quickly enough and we have made a good deal of motion in recent years and more than motion action in the field of civil rights. The United States Senate
Judiciary Committee was for years and still is to a very great degree dominated by a man named Eastland from Mississippi who isn't for civil rights for reasons that are obvious and his position as chairman of the just Senate Judiciary Committee has been enormously important. He's not representative of the Democratic Party he's not even representative of the conservative Republicans because some of them are for civil rights. Each is representative of Mississippi and that's what seniority has done to us in the civil rights field. Every single issue that is of significance to national Democrats justify the existence of the Democratic Party as a national party has been fought by these reactionaries from the south who through the seniority system have come to the top of committee after Committee. I'm going to use my vote the way I please. I no longer am going to use it the way in in in the past it's been the custom in the tradition to use it in the past it's been the custom and tradition. That I would cast my vote the way the majority of my
Democratic colleagues and caucus decided. I'm not going to do that any longer. I don't care what the majority of my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus decide I was elected by over half a million people in California to reflect their views and to reflect my own. And I'm not going to let the majority of the Democratic colleagues in the caucus who don't reflect my view and don't reflect my constituents view to commit my vote. So I'm going to withhold my vote and do just what I please with it. And I may play several things with it. I may please not to vote period just to say you organize a house without me because I'm so disaffected with what you're doing so alienated what you're doing. I may use it to vote and hopefully to vote for a reform candidate in the Democratic Party a younger member a more aware member more concerned member than any leadership that I've heard mentioned. Represents or I may even. And this shocks my colleagues beyond belief.
They are practically becoming impervious to shock or unconcerned I may even felt if there is a candidate in the Republican Party that is young in attitude not chronological age young attitude is concerned about the problems of the country. In my view would represent solutions to the problems better than any Democratic speaker proposed I'd vote for a Republican. I'm just not going to tell these people that I'm going to go along any longer. But I think what. I personally am trying to do and what others in the House are trying to do is to get a hardcore group of younger members of the house in term in times of service and simply say to this house the Democrats of the South don't count on us any longer automatically don't count on us because we've been good guys don't count on us because we have a certain belief that the Democratic Party is the best party in the country. We do have that belief. But
you've been playing that belief to your advantage. You go to the Southerners the southern bloc and they're the toughest most organized able politicians in the country. We in the House of Representatives and you go to them and you make a deal with them and they end up running this institution because you make your deal with it. You take us for granted because you know we're good guys we wear white hats and you know that we're going to always vote for the Democratic Party because we believe that you know those southerners don't feel that way so you've got to deal with them you've got to make concessions to. Well we think it's time you start taking a look at the liberals in this house no longer count on them. And maybe as a result of that you'll start making some concessions to us which will reflect the national Democratic Party rather than the southern branch of the Democratic Party. But it's ridiculous to have a system that denies to a man of great ability and great experience for example a former governor former ambassador to a very important country comes to the House of Representatives as Chad Bowles did a few years ago
and he goes on the bottom of the committee on foreign affairs even though he may be the best qualified man in Congress seniority freezes people into positions. It denies the country the services of a able man. It forces on the country the service now and procure people who are a representative of the interest of the country. We've been all suffering from inflation. In my judgment one of the principal reasons that we've had that inflation is another willful man Wilbur Mills of Arkansas was the chairman by seniority of the Committee on Ways and Means and when Mr. Johnson in January of 67 asked for a tax increase in a timely fashion. If we'd had the tax increase we probably would have prevented the kind of runaway inflation we've been having and still have mills working with two or three other conservative Democrats and all the Republicans on the Committee on Ways and Means was able to prevent that matter from even being considered for about a year and a half and when it finally was passed as President Johnson recommended it
came too late. And the inflation had gotten out of hand and the skews in the economy and the current hardships are in my judgment the direct result of the seniority system. The same man prevented Medicare a little tiny approach to the problems of health of the people of the United States from getting to the floor for years and in my judgment prevented this beginning of a National Health Insurance Program from getting under way. This sort of thing they're using for this program was performed by Michael Baldwin and Richard lo for angry Congressman. The story of an attack on the seniority system in the United States House of Representatives was produced by the Public Information Center Washington D.C.. This is Jeff Cayman speaking. You've been listening to a federal case a weekly examination of the national
- A Federal Case II
- Episode Number
- Four Angry Congressmen
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- National Educational Radio Network
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- "A Federal Case II" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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Producing Organization: National Educational Radio Network
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University of Maryland
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- APA: A Federal Case II; 4; Four Angry Congressmen. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rss5d