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Chapter Two


Speech has helped us attain practically all of the things we have devise. For it is speech that has made laws about justice and injustice and honor and disgrace, without which provisions we should not be able to live together. . . . By speech we educate the ignorant and inform the wise. . . . . With speech we contest our disputes and investigate the unknown.

Isocrates in Nicocles

(372 B. C.)

THE WORLD'S GREATEST assembly is a busy place. What it creates is the final question, but the sheer business of Congress is at least statistically impressive. Four hundred and thirty-five men and women sit in the House of Representatives and one hundred in the Senate. During the first session of the 90th Congress the Senate met for 1,090 hours and 48 minutes on 200 days between January 10 and December 15, 1967. It passed 965 measures, an average of one every session-hour. The house met on 187 days, for 868 hours, and passed even more measures. In all, 249 public laws and 204 private laws were passed.

The measures passed by the Senate included 465 that were Senate bills and 271 that had originated in the house. There were 35 joint resolutions of the Senate, and 16 of the house. Seventeen Senate and 23 House concurrent resolutions were passed. The Senate governed itself and expressed itself alone in 187 simple resolutions. The Senate governed itself and expressed itself alone in 189 simple resolutions. A similar record would describe the House's work. Three bills were vetoed by the President. The Senate confirmed 69,082 appointments to federal government posts.

Major legislation relating to many areas of life was enacted. The mind has to hop like a rabbit to think of all the interests involved.

The new laws of the first session provided for a program to control air pollution, the establishment of a corporation to help finance educational television and radio, and regulations to protect consumers.

In addition, the Congress authorized 312 million dollars for the new Model Cities program, extended the war on poverty program for two more years, giving it 1.98 billion dollars for fiscal 1968, and revised the Social Security laws while increasing benefits. Funds for the first year of operation of the new Department of Transportation were authorized, the military draft was extended until 1970, and a federal employee pay raise was approved. A foreign aid appropriation was passed, as was a 12.2 billion dollar supplementary military appropriation to pay for the war in Viet Nam. The Senate approved a consular treaty with the Soviet Union and a treaty banning the orbiting of nuclear weapons in outer space and providing for the peaceful exploration and use of space.

But the bills passed represented only a part of the Congress' work each of 20,387 measures that were introduced represented at least an iota of energy and some of them a great deal of individual effort. Nor did the congressmen's duties begin and end with introducing and passing bills. They and their staffs had over a million contacts with the government on the individual concerns of their constituents, an average of two thousand per congressman a year. (The total obviously begins to affect some considerable part of the population of the country.) Some 46,000,000 pieces of mail came into the House post office in one two-year period, 1961 and 1962. Senate mail is also heavy.

During 1967 alone the congressmen added 36,420 pages of speeches and papers to the Congressional Record. They held hundreds of committee and subcommittee meetings. Half of them travelled altogether half a million miles around the world learning about international conditions, and all travelled incessantly in the Unites States, mending their political fences in their districts and states, given speeches, inspecting facilities and attending conferences.

They read a great deal. The committees provided them with 1,996 recommendations and reports on legislation in 1967. Government documents of many types pressed for their attention. They usually had to read several newspapers a day. The dipped into the vast periodical literature, and some even read books regularly. Any insomniacs among them might peruse the 1200 page Budget Appendix for fiscal year 1969. Members of Congress rarely suffer from loneliness; hundreds of constituents will stop by in the course of the year at their Washington office, while, when home, life is an unending round of visiting at their office and everywhere else in the district. Congressmen generally seek the company of their colleagues too, for from them they get thousands of helpful cues on how to act in the constantly varying legislative situation. They have to make up their minds on how to vote on scores of roll calls, hundreds of voice votes, and the many occasions when unanimous consent is asked to approve some matter.

At any given time nearly a hundred Representatives will be in their first term and a dozen Senators in their first two years of office. So the tensions of entering a new job and anticipating yet another new job prey upon the minds of many. The pay and emoluments of the congressman do not permit financial ease, and vocational concerns occupy some time and energy of a large part of the membership. The eighty-hour week is not uncommon, a sixty-hour week average. For all of his busyness, the congressman is not afforded a social shelter. He has neither the protective cordon of the President nor the anonymity of the official. He is open to personal abuse and ridicule. By comparison with the average middle-level business executive, he is harder-working, worse-paid, and less secure in his job. The conditions of work are less fancy. Finding a good staff is difficult. The product is of uncertain value.

There is where the legislative process boggles-at the uncertainty of the product. Who is to say whether these thousand laws of a session and the million favors done and the interminable haranguing of colleagues and constituents add up to the best way of governing the most burgeoning land in the world? History gives cold comfort. At best its advice is ambiguous. Faith is a better guide, and a courage that can march against bad omens.


Surely the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
neither yet bread to the wise,
nor yet riches to men of understanding,
nor yet favor to men of skill,
but time and chance happenth to them all.

Some optimism is possible. The half thousand members of the Congress of the United States stand in contradiction to this century of concentrated executive power. They work amid swirling currents of dictatorship and bureaucratic centralism, yet have not been swept away by them. Even should all of their defenses now dissolve, their collective record would mark emphatically the history of the last two centuries. For only rarely in history has a great power of the world long endured in the form of government by assembly. Athens, Florence, Genoa, Switzerland, and other more recent European and Asiatic cases have lacked longevity or great power. Name the Roman Republic, the Venetian Republic, the English parliamentary kingdom, and the French republics since the revolution of 1789, and the roster is probably complete.

If governments by assembly were not so prominent, so interesting in themselves, and so productive of cultural and institutional leadership in the world, one might be tempted to dismiss them as deviations from the natural path of development and dissolution of states. There at one end of the path stand tribalism, feudalism, or localism, and at the other end grand consolidations of empires and centralized bureaucracies. But the several governments by assembly have been so remarkable as to inspire most of the literature of political science, to invite widespread imitation in their times and worlds, and to shake the foundations of scores of absolutely organized nations.

A truth is in their story, a truth that does not offer itself readily to view. The generations that succeed the experiment can never be sure of what its potential was. Could the Rome of Cicero forever have escaped Caesarism? A Venetian historian once asked why the Venetian Republic seemed destined to last so much longer than the Roman Republic and attributed the difference to the constructive trade policies of his country. English writers have often ascribe their parliamentarianism to a vaguely defined love of liberty. Comparing the dictators and the parliaments of the French nation since 1789, which is the normal and which the past being shaken off?

The question of the durability of government by assembly has not been answered by history. It has not been answered for America. In the larger sense, it is unanswerable save by the actuality of the long future. But in the present, lessons may be drawn and a logic of legislative rule purveyed. Perhaps an analysis of its key institution, Congress, can expose what makes the American republic strong and what makes it weak, how the republic may prosper, and also how an opposing principle may defeat it. We are far from the goal of analysis, however. Just how far will become plain when we pose the seemingly simple query: "What is Congress?"


A crowd is an inorganic gathering, momentary and occasional, whose only bond is impulse, some common passion. But all legislatures are stable unions, organic bodies, whose members are known and esteemed, in which exists an established hierarchy of competence and influence. The actions of assemblies are almost never determined by gusts of passion, but rather by interest and intellectual currents, both of which have sturdy roots in the country

Gaetano Mosca, Intorno al Parlamentarismo (1885)

Anyone concerned in the slightest with congress learns very early in his experience with it that it is grossly simplified in the popular mind and yet it is even then too painfully comprehended to hold a comfortable place in thought and imagination. Who, without much trouble, can understand the movements of two assemblies of 435 and 100 persons to the extent of being able to pass judgment upon them, much less attempt to control them? It would seem from the beginning that the task must be impossible for any citizenry, and that those who devised such a system, far from being wise founders, were hopeless idealists.

If the Congress is to work, it must have an image that will appeal to the popular mind and a reason and explanation that must satisfy and motivate the active and informed person. A respected image there must be because there can be little hope of mass understanding, and yet, the power to destroy or let expire rests with the people; the rationale must be, because an institution cannot flourish without roots in the society and its political class.

A favorable popular image seemed not be a serious problem in the early days of the republic. Lord Bryce, writing about Congress in 1888, felt that there had been no decline of congressional prestige in seventy years. The serious deterioration of the image began shortly before the turn of the century, when a new theory of government began to --------. The new theory consisted of ideas of the positive state and of nationalism. Economic and social intervention and ideological integration composed an appealing base for popular affections that might be shifting to the executive establishment and away from the legislature.

The trend, which will be discussed more exactly later on, has continued to the present. The vast majority of Americans neither know nor care about Congress. Ignorance of Congress is especially noticeable among "the new elite" which has risen with the new technology, rapid mass communications and an impersonalized great society. In the ignorance of the educated, as well as of the majority, lies a grave weakness of the congressional system of government.

Fortunately for its survival, the roots of Congress go out far and very deep. It is the center of a ring of institutions that compose the republic. These are populated by a large number of citizens, a great many of whom depend upon or are interested in Congress. These same people are the strength of the congressional system. They exist today as they did when the republic was founded, although many of them also are alienated from Congress by a newer philosophy of government. Still, so long as Congress can count on most of them and on the institutions in which they operate for collective support, the United States is apt to remain in a republic. Furthermore, each new generation can, when it searches, find new possibilities in the old structures. This too helps to perpetuate the republic.

A republic is a system of government, one of whose main features is the participation of many citizens in the selection of officials. Up to the present moment, the principal workable method of achieving that feature has been by free and competitive election. Moreover, the life of a republic appears to be precarious when the number of elective officials is reduced to one, or even to a directorate of several. A Republic is founded upon a system of electing a considerable number of key personnel of the government.

Thus, it is difficult to conceive of a Republic without a legislature. Where the legislature is strong, there is never any doubt that the government is republican, or at least a representative government. (The two terms are practically synonymous.) There may be a king but the monarchy is weak and controlled. (An Englishman may insist that his country is a representative government, not a republic, popular usage would agree.) Where the legislature is weak, the existence of a republic is likely to be in grave doubt. The legislature is the main element, whether a king, or a president, or a committee, or a whole public exist alongside.

Whereas the legislature is the keystone of the republic, a number of other elements constitute the total system. Some are within the government-the presidency, courts, and executive establishment. Others are outside the government but directly connected with it-the constituencies, the political parties, the interest groups, and the press. Even many foreign nations and groups may be counted within the republican system, for they have come to have a variety of relations with and expectations from the system. There are moreover fifty states, several territories and many local governments involved in some manner in the operation of Congress.

At the same time that it possesses numerous external connections, Congress presents a complicated internal structure. People speak of Congress as a discrete entity, as they would a person or a tree. But like these entities and more so, Congress is only superficially a single homogeneous thing. It is made up of a complex system of relations. The House and Senate are obvious. Less obvious are the leadership system and the committees. Least obvious are the hundreds of informal groups that form and unform as the legislative process moves along. The ordinary person is impressed by the anatomical charts used in medical schools with their bone, circulation, nerve and muscle systems in bewildering patterns. A group map of Congress on the inside would be at least as intricate, and quite as confusing.

In the final analysis, Congress is all the ways in which congressmen deal with one another, with the other branches of government, and with political groups. It is all the ways in which they deal with the people of the country. It is part of the nation and the nation is, in part, Congress.

The significance of such a view is that Congress cannot be treated in isolation. What happens to the principal elements of the governmental system happens to Congress. What happens within Congress reflects and affects the whole far-flung range of republican institutions. If one had the means and the evidence, he could show how a Supreme Court decision, for example, distributed its effects not only upon the judicial system, but upon the presidency, Congress, the executive establishment, the public, the parties, the federal system and the social interests of the country.

Each court opinion, of course, would vary in effect with more or less range and intensity. Similarly, a shift in public attitude towards lobbying will ramify its effects through the whole system. Within the Congress, a change in the Senate filibuster procedure would change the relations between the Senate and House, the Senate and courts, the Senate and presidency and indeed every other institution in the republic.

Naturally, under such circumstances, a complete study of the Congress has to include the republican system as a whole. In relatively few instances will there be no interacting effect among the elements. In a great many cases there will be moderate effects ranging out from the basic action that initially began the chain of causation. Action in some critical cases and areas has to be watched closely because of its dominating influence on the whole system.

It is not out of exaggeration but from an exact concern for the critical point in the whole system of republican government that the relations of the Congress to the Executive Force is taken as the theme of this book. As a later chapter (Four) will show, the other elements in the republican system are often important in themselves, but are especially important as they lend weight one way or another to the principal points of balance-the legislature and the executive.

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