Presidential Negotiating Styles with Congress
In his book The Vantage Point, Lyndon Johnson relates an important lesson taught to him by a Texas state senator, Alvin Wirtz. Senator Wirtz had arranged a meeting of private utility company owners, trying to persuade them to make electric power available to small farmers. Johnson got upset with one of the company presidents, "and in the course of our discussion I told the man that he could 'go to hell.'" Later Senator Wirtz called Johnson aside and said: "Listen, Lyndon, I've been around this business for a long time. . . . If I have learned anything at all in these years, it is this: You can tell a man to go to hell, but you can't make him go." That bit of advice was offered to Johnson in 1937. He never forgot it.
I thought of that story many times during my presidency. It seemed particularly apt when I found myself in a struggle with the House or the Senate. I would start to speak out, then I would think of Senator Wirtz and remember that no matter how many times I told the Congress to do something, I could never force it to act. 1
The Founding Fathers were determined that the president should not command Congress. Even the master congressional tactician, Lyndon Johnson, knew that success depended on his understanding the limits on the presidency. The two institutions have been described as being like "two gears, each whirling at its own rate of speed. It is not surprising that, on coming together, they often clash." 2
This chapter describes and analyzes this coming together of the president with Congress. Normally the relationship tends to be activated by the president because he wants something. He is forced to