- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008



In preparing for the next four years, Republicans should carefully examine what took place in the late 1970s, when, in the 95th Congress, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 292-143 in the House and 61-38 with one independent in the Senate. This overwhelming Democratic majority during Jimmy Carter’s first two years gave him a few major legislative victories. But more often than not, he failed to get key parts of his agenda through because Democrats joined with Republicans to kill them, creating a template for today’s Republicans.

Congressional leaders buried his plan to enlarge welfare rolls by almost 50 percent. The president’s nomination of former JFK speechwriter Ted Sorenson as CIA director had to be withdrawn. And Mr. Carter was forced to shelve his plan to withdraw troops from South Korea. Congressional pressure forced the White House to accept legislation cutting capital-gains taxes. A freshman Democratic congressman from Missouri named Richard Gephardt helped kill Mr. Carter’s proposal to create a new federal consumer advocacy agency to lobby in favor of greater regulation of business.

Mr. Carter also failed to win passage of a labor-law “reform” bill that would have imposed severe penalties on employers that tried to resist the forced unionization of their work force. The House had approved the legislation in October 1977 by more than 90 votes. But the bill ran into trouble in the Senate in the spring of 1978, when Democratic leaders tried to ram it through. What followed were 19 days of extended debate and six cloture motions. In the end, the Democrats came up two votes short of the 60 votes needed to win cloture, as Southern Democrats joined Republicans in killing the measure. In the fall elections that year, four Democratic senators who supported the bill went down to defeat. The Carter administration and organized labor also failed to in their efforts to win passage of common-situs picketing legislation that would have made it easier to force reluctant workers into joining unions. In November, Republicans picked up 15 House seats and three Senate seats.

The 96th Congress, which began in 1979, was an even more difficult time for Mr. Carter. Congress spent weeks of contentious debate on legislation to implement the Panama Canal treaties and U.S. financial assistance to Nicaragua, where a Soviet- and Cuban-backed Communist dictatorship had seized power the previous year. Bipartisan opposition from Congress forced Mr. Carter to agree to higher levels of defense spending than the president wanted. Mr. Carter failed to win Senate passage of his SALT II Treaty with the Soviet Union. Opposition from Mr. Gephardt doomed the administration’s efforts to enact price controls on hospitals. But Mr. Carter won congressional passage of legislation creating the new federal Education Department and his energy bill, which included a massive new bureaucracy to produce synthetic fuels and a windfall-profits tax on oil production.Unimpressed voters, however, handed Ronald Reagan a 44-state landslide over Mr. Carter in November 1980, and Republicans gained 12 seats in the Senate and 32 in the House.

If the past is going to be prologue, Republicans will need to learn from the predecessors who took on the Democratic Party juggernaut in the 1970s. And this time they won’t have conservative Southern Democrats to help them.



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