Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Is Congress Losing The Art of Compromise?
The late Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn exuded the color and character that once graced Capitol Hill. As an alternating Speaker of the House and House Minority Leader during the Roosevelt years and the 1950s, everyone referred to him as Mr. Sam. After work, he would duck away to a quiet location in the Capitol called the "Board of Education," where he would down bourbon and munch on raw Texas vidalia onions from a barrel right next to the table.
While Speaker Rayburn crystallized his power over the House of Representatives, he never forgot that the primary function of the majority and the minority was the governance of the United States. Freshman member Tip O'Neill, who went on to become Speaker during the late 1970s and through the Reagan administration, remembers what Mr. Sam had to say when he became Minority Leader after the Republicans took over the House:
Any jack--- can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.
Under Minority Leader Rayburn, his party would protect its rights but share the burden of governance. Members of Congress come to Washington to build a better country, not to lead a revolution. And Speaker Tip O'Neill, the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts who featured that quote in his book, Man of the House, worked with Ronald Reagan to push through some significant initiatives on taxes. O'Neill and Reagan agreed that they would battle it out each workday, but after 6pm, both would be friends.
As the Senate and House enter a period of recess following the debt ceiling fight, we'll use this blog to tell you about leaders from all parties and both chambers of Congress (with an emphasis on the Senate) who have put the national interest first.
Here are some preliminary ideas:
We hope to hear your thoughts on this and more. Do you want your Senators and Representatives to kick down the barn, or do you want to elect carpenters who will build the barn?