Editorial March 14, 2014



“…each of those issues complained about by Republicans, that the President resolved, are now stated as reasons why the President is imperialistic.”

When Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote his book “The Imperial Presidency” in 1973 the issue of a president exceeding his constitutional authority was a current one due to behavior of then President Richard Nixon, but Schlesinger pointed out that the matter reached back to WWII and before and presidencies since and noted that Congress always finds frustration with presidential end runs and sometimes succeeded in clawing back the power. Schlesinger focused on presidents’ initiatives regarding war. The issue of imperial presidency on the Hill today is not about that but is rather about…something else.

Fast forward to this week and two House bills, HR 4138 and HR 3973 seem to be making the effort again to claw back that power which is a welcome effort if it made sense politically and wasn’t packed with irony.

HR 3973 simply requires the US Attorney General to report to congress when he or any other Federal officer establishes or implements a policy to refrain from enforcing, applying, or administering any federal statute, regulation, program, policy or other law within their responsibility. The change expands current reporting requirements for such actions taken by the Attorney general himself. The legal justification for this bill is basically the same as that for HR 4138; under the Constitution the president is require to ‘take care’ that the laws Congress passes are duly enforced. There is, of course, a get out for the president; if the president doesn’t have the money to enforce a law he does not have to.

Where HR 3973 requires a suspect government to report on itself (something that is already done by most agencies) it is HR 4138 that raises an eyebrow. HR 4138 attempts to give Congress some teeth when it feels the laws it passes are not being enforced by the Executive Branch; either or both bodies can file suit against the president which would be heard by a three-judge panel and would then be expedited to the Supreme Court if either party is not happy with the decision of the lower court. Okay, no problem there although some believe the authority to file suit could be overdone and steeped in political intentions essentially delaying further implementation of a law but then, this is Congress so such grandstanding could be expected.

While the bill report notes fairly that it is not just President Obama who, it is believed, exceeded presidential authority, most of the examples are about actions President Obama has taken and that is where the irony comes in.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

Republicans assailed the President and his healthcare plan when it turned out that some nuns were required to be provided with contraceptives through their health plan and leaned heavily on the president until he extended for one year the mandate that large businesses provide health insurance for their full-time workers. Most recently the President waived a provision in the Affordable Care Act so to allow those with policies with less coverage than required by the ACA to keep those policies.

Whether the President took those actions in response to Republican chastising or just because he thought it was a good idea or even politically advantageous each of those issues complained about by Republicans, that the President resolved, are now stated as reasons why the President is imperialistic.

One question is why did the House leadership bring these bills to the floor now? Well, we have seen in this 113th Congress, like no other Congress in recent years, an almost complete unwillingness to compromise on any issue which, parenthetically, may explain why the President has taken matters in his own hands through administrative decisions and Executive Orders. We also know that one of the reasons Republicans are unyielding is their belief that the party not holding the White House prevails in mid-term elections and some conclude that the 113th is doing nothing but legislating to that election rather than doing the business of the Nation. If that is the case it wouldn’t be enough to hold the majority in the House and Senate when they would face a veto pen from the White House.

So what to do about that? Make it so the President must enforce the laws whether he likes them or not with the added twist that the president can be made to approve of laws he was elected to avoid making for campaign fodder.

It’s pretty much a given that if the Republican dream comes true and they take the White House in 2016 the complications HR 4138 and HR 3973 brings to the current Administration wouldn’t matter to them just as It didn’t matter when George W Bush had a Republican Congress during both his terms and his imperialistic behavior didn’t matter to Congress.

Debate the outcome or even the reasons for this legislation but the bottom line is that Republicans assailed issues regarding the ACA, offered no legislative fix, and when the President took action they decided he was imperialistic and now are offering legislation to fix some of the issues.

Not sure how to actually describe such a series of events except to say this looks more like political theater than legislating. ##

Senate Stories

April 2, 1946

Health Care Clash

or, why it took 18 years to pass Medicare Law

 The end of World War II brought unprecedented peacetime challenges to the Senate. The Republican minority, under the leadership of Ohio’s Robert Taft, savored the prospect of victory in the upcoming 1946 midterm elections. For their part, many Democrats struggled to revive the spirit of New Deal progressive legislation.

On April 2, 1946, Montana Democrat James Murray convened his Committee on Education and Labor for the first hearing on comprehensive national health insurance. A resident of Butte, Montana, Murray had in the 1920s witnessed the manipulative practices of the Anaconda Copper Company. He consequently became a New Deal advocate for organized labor, small farmers, and other victims of big business.

Chairman Murray’s 1946 bill targeted $50 million to finance health insurance programs for low-income Americans, for maternal and child care, and for medical research and education grants to states. He began his April 2 hearing by citing a Washington Post editorial that warned against applying the word “communistic” to programs designed for full employment, veterans’ housing, and health insurance. He urged senators to avoid the American Medical Association’s tactic of labeling health care legislation as “socialized medicine.”

Murray’s request brought an immediate objection from Robert Taft, the committee’s second ranking Republican. “I consider it socialistic! It is in my mind the most socialistic measure ever considered by the Congress!” Murray advised Taft to wait his turn later in the hearing. Pointedly ignoring his chairman, Taft began reading a statement. Murray exploded, saying to Taft, “I don’t propose to let you bluff me on a grandstand play. You have so much gall and nerve that you won’t let anybody [else] complete a statement.” After a 15-minute shouting match, the chairman bellowed, “Shut up right now, or I’ll call the officers and have you removed from the room.” Explaining that he had another meeting to attend in a few minutes, Taft continued speaking. Murray glared at Taft and said, “Shut your mouth up and get out of here.” Taft responded by asking Murray for a committee recess until “you have recovered your temper.” The chair lashed back to this son of a former president and chief justice, “You are so self-opinionated and think you are so important that you can come into any committee and disrupt it.

Taft stalked from the room with a promise to boycott all future hearings and to block the bill if it ever surfaced on the Senate floor.

Taft’s promise, opposition by the AMA, and Republican gains in Congress delayed major health care legislation for another 18 years. Only in 1964, after the Democrats had rebuilt a sizable majority, was Congress able to enact Medicare. ## from the Senate Clerk


February 3, 1951

A Doctor’s Warning

9 Ways Members of Congress Can Stay Healthy

In December 1928, one House member dropped dead and two others collapsed from causes attributed to overwork. Although officials in each case immediately summoned medical assistance from city hospitals, several hours passed before a physician arrived to render aid. In 1928 alone, incumbent members of the Senate and House were dying at the appalling rate of almost 20 per year.

On December 5, 1928, the House passed a resolution directing the secretary of the navy to detail a medical officer to be present near the House Chamber while that body was in session. The secretary assigned Dr. George Calver, who initially took up residence in the House Democratic cloakroom. Not to be outdone by the House in a gesture of concern for the well-being of its members, the Senate in April 1930 adopted a concurrent resolution extending Dr. Calver’s jurisdiction to its premises. Although the House subsequently ignored that concurrent resolution, the navy secretary, on the strength of the Senate’s action, directed Dr. Calver to “look after both houses.” Thus was born the Office of Attending Physician, which moved to two ground-floor rooms in its current location near the midpoint of the Capitol’s west-front corridor. Within several months, both houses recognized the office’s existence by providing funding for its operations.

New York Times clip, 1951

Soon after he took office in the darkest days of the Great Depression, Dr. Calver earned national headlines with a stern warning to members. Following the collapse of the House Ways and Means Committee chairman during an influenza outbreak, and the sidelining of dozens of senators and representatives, Calver cautioned against overdoing committee work.

The Congress that began in December 1931 suffered a particularly large toll. Before it was four months old, that body witnessed the deaths of four senators and 16 representatives. Many others took to their beds under a legislative strain that long-serving members considered unprecedented.

For the next 35 years, until his retirement in 1966, Dr. Calver routinely captured national media attention with his advice to hardworking members. On February 3, 1951, the New York Times Magazine reported on his “nine commandments of health,” which were printed on large placards and displayed throughout the Capitol. They included: “Eat wisely, drink plentifully (of water!). Play enthusiastically, and relax completely. Stay out of the Washington social whirl—go out at night twice a week at most.” His ultimate advice: “Don’t let yourself get off-balance, nervous, and disturbed over things.” from the Senate Clerk