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The “down” Years 1972-74
A Senator’s View
August 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 5
Monday night Lyndon Johnson died. The thirty-sixth President of the United States was a powerful, although debatable, character. … Although he had his confidential advisers, I always felt that he made his own decisions. I was at the White House frequently when some of these decisions were announced. Some of them were good, and some were mistakes.
We worked together closely on all matters relating to public welfare, agriculture, and rural life in general. He was approachable; he could be called almost any time, day or night. He liked to talk over problems which concerned us all. I would describe him briefly by saying he liked to be asked but he didn’t like to be told or receive advice unless he asked for it. … In the matter of the Vietnamese war we did not agree, but he did not show signs of resentment.
It is in the field of agriculture that the first confrontation between the Congress and the executive branch of government is taking place. The House voted by somewhat less than a two-thirds vote to continue the REAP [Rural Environmental Assistance Program]. The Department of Agriculture says only 20 per cent of the country as a whole is making use of this program. I am sure that the Senate will follow the action of the House, and probably by more than a two-thirds vote. The President will undoubtedly veto the bill, and I doubt that the House will muster votes enough to override the veto.
The action on this program carries an importance which goes far beyond the proper use and improvement of agricultural land. It brings to the front the question as to whether the President can by a stroke of the pen eliminate a program which has been authorized and financed by the Congress. …
On Thursday morning I spoke for fifteen minutes on the necessity for cooperative effort in the field of foreign affairs between the executive and legislative branches of government. At present the President has the whip hand. He has made his place in history already if he doesn’t upset it within the next four years, while the Congress has made little progress in re-establishing its constitutional responsibility and authority. … The Senate now spends too much time planning for the next election, and too many of its members spend too much time and effort running for the Presidency. The result is that Congress is getting nowhere fast.
In my remarks as originally planned, I included one line which read: “The Senate should not be a prep school for the White House.” I deleted this line; nevertheless, we have possibly a half dozen members of the Senate today who slant their work in this legislative body with a view to having the positions they take, and the speeches they make, contribute to their aspirations for higher office.
In the latest Indian uprising out in the Black Hills of South Dakota two hundred militants took about a dozen hostages and insisted that the Foreign Relations Committee review their treaties with the federal government running back for a hundred and fifty years or more. … There is no doubt in my mind but what the Indians got rooked plenty in the old days, but they comprise a pretty small percentage of our total population, and the prospects for recovering all the land and property which once was theirs are pretty slim.
During 1947 and 1948 when I was chairman of what is now called the Government Operations Committee, we found that a lot was going on in the Bureau of Indian Affairs which was not very commendatory to our government. There was too much job making for not very well qualified officials and too little consideration being given to the claims of the Indians at that time.
As the war in Indochina died down close to the zero mark the war in Washington, D.C., kept merrily on, with the White House and Congress continuing to charge each other with full-scale rascality while each laid claim to holiness and credit for the improved economy and better living throughout the United States and the world.
In some respects hypocrisy was king. This was evidenced in the Senate by a proposal to open to the public the executive meetings of all committees unless the majority of the committee members (after sitting down to consider and vote on proposed legislation on which public hearings had been held) decided to throw the public audience out into the street.
I would like to see this practice tried, even though I voted against the proposal. I will guarantee that the first to squawk under such a rule would be many of those who voted to approve it. …
The whole open-sessions proposal was simply an attempt to make the public believe that its advocates were chock-full of righteousness.
I wish the President would cut out challenging the Congress and asking the public to support him and oppose the Congress. … Congress reciprocates in kind, but all this warfare going on is no substitute for attending to the business of the nation and considering proposed legislation with a maximum of concern and a minimum of partisan ambitions.