Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

members of the committees are chosen read it and move its adoption. But he by the Senate itself, acting, in fact, finds getting the floor an arduous and through the caucuses of each party. The precarious undertaking. There are cerpresiding officer of the Senate, the Vice- tain to be others who want it as well as President of the United States, is there- he; and his indignation is stirred by the fore a political nonentity. He has no fact that the Speaker does not so much influence in shaping legislation in the as turn towards him, though he must Senate. The Speaker of the House, on have heard his call, but recognizes some the contrary, is a great and potent force one else readily and as a matter of in shaping legislation. He has been

course. If he be obstreperous and pergiven absolute power in forming the sistent in his cries of • Mr. Speaker,' he committees of the House, and these may get that great functionary's attencommittees, or rather the chairmen of tion for a moment, — only to be told, these committees, have practical control however, that he is out of order, and over all legislation upon subjects which that his bill can be introduced at that are referred to them. The responsibility stage only by unanimous consent : imfor legislation, consequently, rests upon mediately there are mechanically uttered the chairmen of the committees, and but emphatic exclamations of objection, primarily upon the Speaker who appoints and he is forced to sit down, confused them. How this happens is to be seen and disgusted. . . . He learns that his from following the very intelligible ac- only safe day is Monday. On that day count of the nature of committee gov- the roll of the States is called, and ernment given by Mr. Woodrow Wilson members may introduce bills as their in a volume entitled Congressional Gov- States are reached in the call. If ernment (1885). People often think he supposes, as he naturally will, that that the election to Congress of a few after his bill has been sent up to be men who represent them on public ques. read by the clerk he may say a few tions will produce a visible effect on words in its behalf, and in that belief legislation. But the Speaker and the sets out upon his long-considered recommittees will, in fact, make new mem- marks, he will be knocked down by the bers very humble parts of a machine rules as surely as he was on the first which is outside of their control. The occasion when he gained the floor for election of a member of Congress be- a brief moment. The rap of Mr. cause of his opinions on a particular ques- Speaker's gavel is sharp, immediate, and tion does not insure the presence in that peremptory.

He is curtly informed body of a champion who can effectively that no debate is in order ; the bill can push his ideas into legislation. The only be referred to the appropriate new member will accomplish little, if he committee." is not on the committees to which are The House acts through its comreferred the questions which were the mittees. “ The work" - I quote again causes of his election. The actual posi- from Mr. Wilson “is parceled out, tion of the new and energetic Represen- most of it to the forty-seven standing tative in Congress, and his relation to committees which constitute the regular committees, is explained by Mr. Wilson, organization of the House, some of it to from whom I quote:

select committees appointed for special “ His bill is doubtless ready for pres- and temporary purposes. Each of the entation early in the session, and some almost numberless bills that come pourday, taking advantage of a pause in the ing in on Mondays is . read a first and proceedings, when there seems to be no second time,' — simply perfunctorily business before the House, he rises to read, that is, by its title, by the clerk, and passed by silent assent through its each Congress, not having been rejectfirst formal courses, for the purpose of ed, but having been simply neglected. bringing it to the proper stage for com- There was not time to report upon mitment, and referred without debate them. to the appropriate standing committee. “Of course, it goes without saying Practically, no bill escapes commitment that the practical effect of this com- save, of course, bills introduced by mittee organization of the House is to committees, and a few which may now consign to each of the standing comand then be crowded through under a mittees the entire direction of legislasuspension of the rules, granted by a tion upon those subjects which properly two-thirds vote, – though the exact dis- come to its consideration. As to those position to be made of a bill is not al- subjects it is entitled to the initiative, ways determined easily and as a matter and all legislative action with regard to of course. Besides the great Committee them is under its overruling guidance. of Ways and Means and the equally .. The House never accepts the progreat Committee on Appropriations, posals of the Committee of Ways and there are standing committees on Bank. Means, or of the Committee on Approing and Currency, on Claims, on Com- priations, without due deliberation ; but merce, on the Public Lands, on Post it allows almost all of its other StandOffices and Post Roads, on the Judi- ing Committees virtually to legislate ciary, on Public Expenditures, on Man- for it. ufactures, on Agriculture, on Military “ One very noteworthy result of this Affairs, on Naval Affairs, on Mines and system is to shift the theatre of debate Mining, on Education and Labor, on upon legislation from the floor of ConPatents, and on a score of other branches gress to the privacy of the committeeof legislative concern.

. . The little public debate “ The fate of bills committed is gen. (one hour in all) that arises under the erally not uncertain. As a rule, a bill stringent and urgent rules of the House committed is a bill doomed. When it is formal rather than effective, and it is goes from the clerk's desk to a com- the discussions which take place in the mittee-room it crosses a parliamentary committees that give form to legislation. bridge of sighs to dim dungeons of The proceedings of the commitsilence, whence it will never return. tees are private and their discussions The means and time of its death are unpublished. . . . Indeed, it is not usual unknown, but its friends never see it for the committees to open their sittings again. Of course no Standing Com- often to those who desire to be heard mittee is privileged to take upon itself with regard to pending questions; and the full powers of the House it repre- no one can demand a hearing as a right. sents, and formally and decisively reject On the contrary, they are privileged a bill referred to it; its disapproval, if and accustomed to hold their sessions in it disapproves, must be reported to the absolute secrecy. ... The speeches made House in the form of a recommendation before the committees at their open sesthat the bill do not pass. But it is sions are therefore scarcely of such a kind easy, and therefore common, to let the as would be instructive [!] to the public, session pass without making any report and on that account worth publishing. at all upon bills deemed objectionable or They are, as a rule, the pleas of special unimportant, and to substitute for re- pleaders, the arguments of advocates. ports upon them a few bills of the com- ... They represent a joust between mittee's own drafting ; so that thousands antagonistic interests, not a contest of of bills expire with the expiration of principles.”

rooms.

Of course,

this way.

Even this statement may not convey dent's use of the veto, of his appointing a wholly adequate notion of the facts. power, or of his foreign policy, they It is true that legislation can be im- have a direct means of calling him to peded by committees, but it is quite account. Now if the country believes probable that the committees them- that legislation has been vicious in its selves are not as powerful as they are effects, does it do any good to hit at the here described. If we except the President? If the voters rise to an ingreater committees, the chairmen are terest in the coinage of silver, or in more powerful than their committees. revenue reform, how shall they obtain Contrary to common opivion, indeed, a direct accounting from the legislative these bodies do not often meet, and a stewards ? They have, in short, no fairly strong chairman entirely controls such means. Certainly they cannot his committee.

achieve this end by removing a PresiAgain, yet another point is to be kept dent, when the real agents are the in mind, when we try—as is our object Speaker and his chairmen. - to fix the responsibility for legisla- if silver legislation, for instance, gets tion. Paradoxical as it may seem to through a committee and comes before all who know of our partisan campaigns the House, the vote of each member of and the prevalence of partisan motives the House (who votes) is recorded, and in political movements, in truth we do if the district represented by him disnot have enough of party government approves of his course it can repudiate in Congress. Although the party in him. . There are no means, however, power retains the chairmanships, and of calling a committee to account in as a rule, puts a majority of their own

A conspicuous example of side on the committees, still the commit- this absence of responsibility came up tees are composed of men of both polit- during the last session of Congress. ical parties. So far as legislative re- The chairman of one of the great comsponsibility is concerned, this is an evil. mittees so managed the appropriation It is a device by which the party in pow. bills as effectively to cut off all other er escapes the entire responsibility for legislation. His conduct was a matter the action of its committees and for of national import, but the only means the furtherance or defeat of legislation. of reaching him was to ask his conWere party lines more strictly drawn gressional district to hold him responsiin Congress, and the committees com- ble for his action as a chairman, posed solely of members of the party very impracticable suggestion. For he in power at any given time, the other was not appointed chairman by the party would be arrayed in discussion votes of his constituents who elected as a keen and active opposition, who him to Congress. In short, we must could put the responsibility where it be- logically fall back on the Speaker who longs.

appointed him. To this point we have been carried So, as I have shown, no other one by our account of the methods by which man in the Union has so great an inlegislation is actually accomplished in fluence on actual legislation as the our Congress, and we have seen where Speaker of the House of Representathe chief responsibility for good or for tives. No other person can so impress bad enactments lies. But in the early his personal views on legislation as can part of the paper I have outlined the he. He can appoint to the committees relations of the Executive to those who which have special charge of legislation elected him. It was seen that if voters on important subjects a majority of men disapprove, for example, of the Presi- who agree with his views, and these

a bill ?

committees can practically exercise en- lation. And yet, after a President gets tire control of the matter. This is also into office, who concerns himself with exemplified by the history of the last the views of the Executive on such subsession. The Speaker had appointed to jeets, unless he is in a position to veto the Coinage Committee a majority of

If the President were able to members hostile to the suspension of appoint committees from the elected silver coinage ; and so, in spite of the members of Congress, where legislation impending business crisis, nothing af- goes on, then his views on public measfecting that subject was reported. Yet ures would be of paramount importance. the subject was, indeed, brought up at As it is, the views of the Speaker, who the close of the session, but only by a does make the committees, are of infiniteparliamentary device founded on the ly greater importance in such matters fact that the purchase of silver bullion than those of the President, who exeby the Treasury was a question of ap- cutes the laws. The country, however, propriations, and a provision could by a singular oversight, scarcely thinks therefore be tacked on to the bills of of troubling itself with the Speaker's another committee than that of coinage. preconceptions as to legislation. The voIn fact, the Speaker who makes up the ters are stirred up to an interest in polcommittees is the only single person of itics by the managers, and then, by the any real importance in the legislative force of delusions, they assign to one branch of our government.

man the influence and power which be In spite of this, people continue to longs to another. With burning zeal think that the President can guide leg. we discuss the declarations of the presiislation. This notion, as I must have dential candidate in regard to legislamade clear, is a popular delusion, fos- tion, on the ground, apparently, that he tered by chance and by scheming man- has nothing to do with carrying these agers, to blind the voter to the real opinions into enactments, the princitruth of his actions at the ballot-box. ple of lucus a non lucendo! It is as It is high time, now, that simple and if we made a great show of inviting a fundamental principles should be under- crowd of friends to hunt the lion, while stood. The conduct of presidential the managers all the time knew there campaigns and the speeches of “ora- was no lion to hunt; but it is curious, tors ” are saturated with this delusion indeed, to find the hunters persist in the that the personal opinions of the can- belief that there must be a lion, even didates for our chief magistracy are of after the failure of the hunt has clearly vital importance to the success of gov- demonstrated that there is none to be ernment and to the action of Congress. found. Those who share in the sport An illustration of this confusion of bave a glorious inability to see that thought is to be found in high places. they have been humbugged. The letter of acceptance of one of the Under the delusion which confounds candidates in the last campaign was the position of the President and the devoted, after a short reference to his Speaker, many people went so far, in position on civil service reform (which the last campaign, as to minutely diswas of primary importance, because, as cuss the position of one candidate on has been seen, this concerns the Presi- the question of prohibition, and even dent's methods of making appointments, nominated another on this issue. It all over which he has full control), to a had no point. Suppose a temperance lengthy statement of his views on the candidate were elected President, what wisdom of protection, of our shipping could he do? He might settle the queslaws, and of other questions for legis- tion whether or not there should be wine on the White House table, but very little may be able to induce members of Conmore than that. A temperance Presi- gress to vote for the suspension of silver dent could not create temperance legis- coinage next winter by an obvious use lation. The only way to accomplish of his appointments; but it must be reanything of that kind would be by elect- membered, however, that, after his aping temperance congressmen. It is true pointments are all made, he will be a that a candidate for the presidency is a very much less influential man with visible centre of the battle, and the sup members of Congress than he is now. port of him may assist in sweeping con- We all know how notorious is the disgressmen of the same party into office; regard of the recommendations of the but only the latter thing is of impor- President in his messages to Congress. tance as concerns legislation.

No one thinks seriously of any legislaThus far the distinction between the tion following from the presentation by powers of the President and the Speaker the Executive of important measures have been only roughly sketched, and it in these messages. The most that is will be impossible here to shade in the done in reality is to call the public atoutline with all the lines and modeling tention to grave questions, and perhaps, necessary to represent fully the actual in an indirect way, through outside insituation. The fact probably is that the fluence or the demands of the press, to President, apart from his veto power, bring a pressure to bear upon Congress. does have an influence upon legislation. Yet the way out of the difficulty I We are now expecting President Cleve. have shown is not quite obvious. It land to influence legislation on the coin- is probably accepted by all who know age of silver dollars at the next session the workings of Congress that there is of Congress. Can he do it? In my no escape from committee government. opinion, he can, so long as he has pa- Contrasts are drawn between the Lowtronage uncontrolled by the regulations er House in Congress and the English of the civil service law. At present, House of Commons, to the disadvantage scarcely any local leader of his own of the former. The House of Commons party wishes to quarrel with the Presi- permits more debate, but it has less dent's policy while he may hope to get power to dispatch business than our a postmaster, or an official, appointed in Lower House. In truth, the English his district on his own recommendation. body, as demands on its time increase, But if all these offices were removed is more likely to move in the direction from politics, — as is now the case for of the time-saving committee system, only ten thousand out of one hundred rather than away from it. Congressional thousand offices, — what would congress- business multiplies, and time is unavoidmen care for the personal opinions of ably wanting for any plan which inthe Executive ? Practically, nothing. volves the consideration of details by The President would have no more influ- the whole House. We must make up ence, perhaps, than any other vigorous our minds, therefore, to accept the comman with great strength of character, in mittee system. But can we not secure the position of a party leader. While an arrangement by which the country his social influence would not count for will have something more tangible than much, the power of a popular President the divided responsibility now existing, over the councils of bis party leaders, diffused as it is among forty-seven chairand through them over the managers men of as many committees ? in Congress, might be considerable, but Accepting the committee system, as would surely be very indefinite and un- it is, what reform would best secure recertain. Perhaps President Cleveland sponsibility for legislation ? We shall VOL. LV. - NO. 332.

53

« AnteriorContinuar »