The opening of the 84th Congress has ushered in an era of confusion and excitement in Washington. Everybody interested in politics is speculating on the future behavior of the Democratic Congress. Will it "cooperate with Mr. Eisenhower?" Will it be dominated by leftists or by moderate conservatives?
The most common answer tells us that the Executive and Congress will work together harmoniously, because both branches will end up in the hands of conservatives. The leading Democrats in Congress are supposed to be genial conservatives of the old South.
One part of this picture may be called accurate. It is forecast that the President and Congress will cooperate. From the first day after election, it could be seen that President Eisenhower is not worried about the prospects for his legislative program. The powerful "Eisenhower liberal" press showed not the slightest qualm over the election results. In fact, the warm glow of bipartisanship became so intense, that the President felt impelled to give public assurance to worried Republican leaders. He promised them that at least no advance bipartisan planning on domestic legislation would take place.
The reason for this expected Congressional cooperation cannot be found in the widespread notion that the leading Democratic Congressmen believe in a conservative approach. On the contrary, cannot most of them be called New-Fair Dealers in the fullest sense of the term? Let us go down the roster of the important Democratic leaders and committee chairmen. Sam Rayburn may hail from Texas, but he is also remembered as an old New Deal wheelhorse, who went down the line for the New Deal and Fair Deal programs. He leads the left wing of Texas Democracy.
Leadership of the House Majority falls to John McCormack, all-out New Dealer from Massachusetts. The following important committees in the House are headed by New Dealers: Cannon (Mo.), Appropriations; Brent Spence (Ky.), Banking and Currency; Celler (N.Y.), Judiciary; Cooper (Tenn.), Ways and Means; Engle (Calif.), Interior; Buckley (N.Y.), Public Works; Dawson (Ill.), Government Operations.
True, the Agriculture, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs Committees of both the House and the Senate1 are headed by Southerners who may be generally classified as moderate conservatives. But look at the important catch. Each of the chairmen believes in increasing statism in the particular field which his committee covers!
Thus, Rep. Cooley (N.C.) and Senator Ellender (La.) will take charge of their respective Agriculture Committees. Both men support high-parity ardently. Senator Richard Russell and Rep. Carl Vinson, both of Georgia, will sit in the chairs of the Armed Services Committees. Both men believe in virtually unlimited military spending. The Foreign Affairs Committees will be run by George (Ga.) in the Senate, and Richards (S.C.) in the House. Both stand in the modern Southern tradition of outright internationalism and support the bipartisan foreign policy.
In the Senate, the story reads much the same. Almost all of the other important committees will be headed by down-the-line New Dealers: Hayden (Ariz.), Appropriations; Fulbright (Ark.), Banking and Currency; Anderson (N.M.), Interior; Magnuson (Wash.), Interstate Commerce; Kilgore (W.Va.), Judiciary; Murray (Mont.), Labor; Chavez (N.M.) Public Works.
Futhermore, Anderson will head the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Paul Douglas of Illinois, a New Deal favorite, will take charge of the Joint Committee on the Economic Report. Senator Kefauver will drop around to plague business as chairman of an anti-"monopoly" subcommittee. The various committees investigating communism will quietly fold. Chairman Walter (Pa.) has threatened to lead a drive to abolish his own Un-American Activities Committee. This was something that President Roosevelt, at the height of his power, could not accomplish.
An interesting situation crops up in the case of Graham Barden (N.C.), new chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. More and more in recent years, Southern Democrats have abandoned conservatism except in the fields of anti-discrimination legislation and labor unionism. Barden follows that pattern. He votes conservative on unions, socialistic on such matters as Federal aid to education. In consequence, leftists in the House are sponsoring a move to split his committee in two. Education would fall to one committee which Barden would continue to head. The other committee would get Labor, and a new chairman, left-winger Kelley (Pa.).
When we come down to cases, then, we find that only one important committee in each house is headed by a conservative: the Senate Finance Committee; under Harry Byrd, and the House Rules Committee, headed by a Virginia colleague of Byrd's, the redoubtable Howard W. Smith. Smith stands a few degrees more conservative than Byrd. The House Rules Committee, however, will not make itself a great conservative force, as it was felt in the old New Deal days. Five of Smith's Democratic colleagues can be called "liberals," appointed by Rayburn. And the Republican members, with a single exception, have shown themselves to vote conservatively only when opposing a Democratic President. When socialistic legislation is proposed by a Republican, they meekly submit. A single exception shines: Clarence J. Brown of Ohio.
Brown, incidentally has emerged as the leader of the conservative Republicans in the House. Joe Martin, who at 70 wanted to retire from active leadership, felt obliged to continue in his long-time role of Republican Leader. Martin wanted to avoid a ding-dong battle for the post between Brown and Charlie Halleck of Indiana. The able and genial Brown led the successful Republican Congressional campaign in 1946. That campaign, by the way, was waged on the basis of conservative principle and not on the coattails of pleasing personality.
Halleck, the Republican whip2, insured the nomination of Dewey in 1948 by forsaking the Taft ranks in a last-minute move. During the last Congress, Halleck pressured Republicans to vote for Eisenhower's "progressive" program, thereby earning the hostility of many conservatives.
Evidently, then, this Congress will be controlled by left-wingers. Why the glowing prospects for cooperation with the Executive? A simple answer suggests itself. Let us look at the highlights of the coming Eisenhower program. Such measures as these stand out:
Increased public housing; socialized medicine in the form of governmental health re-insurance; a $100 billion Federal highway program; pro-union amendments to the Taft-Hartley law; continued deficits and further increases in the national debt; continued foreign aid; and perhaps federal aid to education and increased minimum wages.
Can Socialists object to such a program? Some Democrats may grumble that these measures don't go far enough, but such comments won't have much sting. Actually, almost no important issues divide the Administration from the New Deal Democrats. Much has been made over differences in the farm and tax programs. But the quarrels over a few percentage points in parity support signify little. Of the major crops, only wheat will be affected by the slight cuts made last Congress.
The tax differences also may be put down as minor ones. The Eisenhower Administration insisted on extending excess profits taxes for a year, and now insists on maintaining very high corporate income and excise rates. The Democrats, in order to show to the voters some sort of independent record, must try to blow up the importance of these differences as 1956 draws near. But these disagreements stem from minor adjustments. Neither party favors any substantial reduction of our crushing burden of taxes.