Tags: Newt Gingrich | Presidential History | mezvinsky | rostenkowski

History of 103rd Congress Repeating in 115th

History of 103rd Congress Repeating in 115th
Then-newly sworn-in Rep. Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky, D-Pa. along with her family, take part in the opening session of the 103rd Congress on Capital Hill in Washington,D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 1993. (Marcy Nighswander/AP)

By Monday, 24 July 2017 02:40 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Like the seemingly "permanent majority" of the Democratically-controlled 103rd Congress, this Congress (the 115th) dismisses the possibility of losing in a midterm landslide — but is in very similar waters.

I was one of the majority makers in 1994. I beat Dan Rostenkowski ("Rosty"), then-Chairman of the "powerful House Ways and Means Committee." I put that in quotation marks because I could not read his name in the Chicago newspapers (or anywhere for that matter) for that 18 months I was running for Congress in Chicago — without the accompanying modifier "powerful."

Addicted to bacon, the Chicago establishment could not imagine losing the top Midwest dispenser of pork. The press did what they could do to help him by ubiquitously describing his Ways and Means chairmanship as "powerful" — among many, many other things including hounding this mere 32 year-old army veteran with an investigative reporter to distract and harass me through the summer and fall of 1994.

The Republican establishment (with some notable exceptions) would not take my calls for fear of enraging the powerful chairman and cutting themselves out of the few pork rinds left over for them. Even the national party refused to help until they commissioned a poll showing I was up by 20 points a week out from the election!

The Democratic establishment did what it could — David Axelrod managed Rosty’s campaign and the Clintons were personally and financially helpful to the powerful chairman. Dan did not want for money, connections, press attention (good and bad) and national help in any form — or amount — he wanted.

So, how did I do it?

The short answer is that I trusted the people to make a good decision. I asked for their vote, promised to work hard, vowed to be honest, and demonstrated a more than passable understanding of the issues as well as of the Republic's workings.

I also took advantage of the sleepy and arrogant Democrats unwilling to grasp that their majority was in danger.

Newt Gingrich did the same that year. Over the objections of the Republican minority leader in the U.S. House (a very close personal friend of Rosty, by the way), he offered the Contract with America as a uniform alternative. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Republicans won the House and Senate during the mid-term of an initially unpopular president when no one — absolutely no one — thought they could. The speaker lost, Rosty lost, the umpteen-term Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jack Brooks of Texas lost as did scores of others long thought to be shoe-ins for reelection. The all-but-permanent Democratic majority was dead. We are looking at very similar circumstances this year.

The 103rd Congress leading up to 1994 is often described as a hard-working majority seemingly laboring to serve its new president’s priorities in a popular wave. It wasn’t.

What it was, was a few ideologues and long-entrenched congressional members in the leadership running the show to the exclusion of their own majority members. Only leadership generated bills. Members were encouraged/required to do nothing more than vote as they were told and get re-elected.

For example, during that Congress, Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky (later the mother-in-law of Chelsea Clinton) cast the deciding vote to enact the enormous Clinton tax hikes.

She came to the floor after being telephoned repeatedly by the president, lectured by the speaker and threatened by the majority leader all "encouraging" her aye vote. The speaker pro temp held the 15-minute vote open for literally hours while the leadership worked her over to get the last and deciding vote.

Needless to say, she was not returned to Congress. She probably knew it, being that it is reported that after her hours-long hostage ordeal at the hands of her own leadership she was weeping aloud when she cast her aye vote — knowing that her career in Congress just ended. Her leadership was jubilant.

No Democrat in that Congress dared to write a bill. No Democrat dared to disagree publicly for fear of retribution. No Democrat felt free to do his job. Each Democrat deeply resented merely being a vote to support leadership but they did not know another way.

Literally dozens of them actually thanked me for beating Rosty. To be sure, they did not like being the minority but they did like having their oppressive leadership gone.

Today, the feeling is much the same. Members do not write bills, they do not propose hearings, and they are merely cut-outs for leadership. They spout lots of ideological babble for the consumption of the home folks but do very little other than dial for dollars to get reelected and raise money for the majority.

The bills are promulgated only by leadership and even the committees are cut out of the process. Where are the healthcare bills from the committees? Where are the bills proposing tax reform from the House Ways and Means Committee? Nowhere, that’s where. They do not exist.

In 1995 after the new majority took power, there were no less than five competing tax reform bills working their way through House Ways and Means, all getting hearings and all engulfing national interest in the issue. Where are these ideas today? Where are the hard working members anxious to get their ideas into laws? They are doing as they are told —raising money to support the system.

Leadership may physically write the bills (what few there are) but their hands are guided by K Street — not for pork like in years past but for ideological purity and the naked thrill by powerful lobbyists acting like members to the exclusion of actual House members!

The weak House leadership encourages this behavior so that the members will have lots of time to raise money to keep the majority.

So, leadership has dictatorial control, their favorite lobbyist pals downtown write bills and the vast majority of members just vote as told to do so and are required to raise the millions and millions of dollars to keep the whole corrupt business going.

It stinks of 1994 and of the failure that followed the Democrats that autumn.

Michael Patrick Flanagan represented the 5th District of Illinois in the historic 104th Congress. Prior to his Congressional Service, Michael was commissioned in the United States Army Field Artillery. Michael and his firm, Flanagan Consulting LLC, have represented both large and small corporations, organizations, and associations. In 2009, Michael entered public service again with the United States Department of State in Iraq as the Senior Rule of Law Advisor on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Maysan, Iraq. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Today, members do not write bills, they do not propose hearings, and they are merely cut-outs for leadership. They spout lots of ideological babble for the consumption of the home folks but do very little other than dial for dollars to get reelected, raising money for the majority.
mezvinsky, rostenkowski
Monday, 24 July 2017 02:40 PM
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