Bitterness in Congress has reached a level where it is
interfering with the legislative process. Congress cannot do what it
is supposed to do.
The low point came a couple of weeks ago when a simple
disagreement in the House Ways and Means Committee grew into a
demand by Chairman Bill Thomas (R) of California that Capitol Police
remove Democratic members from the committee library. They didn't,
but the argument boiled over to consume a full afternoon in the
House of Representatives. The fuss came over Democratic demands to
be allowed longer than overnight for examining a 200-page bill to
overhaul the nation's pension system. The House rejected a
Democratic protest of the Republican behavior by a party-line vote,
170 to 143. A week later, after a private talk in the office of
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R) of Illinois, Mr. Thomas
apologized in a tearful speech on the House floor.
Only a couple of days before that episode, the Senate Democrats
had unsuccessfully tried to use the defense appropriations bill as a
vehicle for investigating the run-up to war in Iraq. The White House
opposed this, and therefore so did the Senate.
A generation ago, Vietnam was the most divisive issue since the
Civil War, but it was not partisan; it divided between the White
House and the Senate, each of which was controlled by Democrats.
They would not have needed an amendment to the defense
appropriations bill to investigate the war, nor would the recent
Ways and Means Committee incident have occurred.
In those days, even with strong feelings over Vietnam, there was
comity. People could disagree without disliking one another. Some
opponents were genuine friends. Secretary of State Bill Rogers and
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bill Fulbright would quarrel about
the best way to get out of Vietnam during the week, and then play
golf together on the weekends. On a recent Washington visit, former
president and House minority leader Gerald Ford recalled his good
friendship with former majority leader T. Hale Boggs (D) of
Beyond partisanship, a problem currently hampering Congress is
the growth of ideological politics. Social and cultural issues are
more important today. During the Nixon administration, a Democratic
Senate rejected two successive nominations to the Supreme Court
without generating the bitterness that has caused the present Senate
stalemate in all judicial confirmations.
This paralysis and bitterness in politics is affecting states and
even cities. …