Wednesday, 29 December 2010

94th Congress

1974 was a dramatic year in American politics (it was pretty dramatic in the UK too - with two General Elections!). President Nixon was brought down by the Watergate Scandal - and President Ford's honeymoon came to a sudden end when he pardoned the former President. The Elections on November 4th brought in a wave of young Democrats - the "Watergate Babies". The Democrats gained a net of 49 seats in the House of Representatives and 5 seats in the Senate.

The new Congress met for the first time on 14th January 1975. The Democratic caucus had agreed a number of rule changes in December, including
  • stripping the Democratic members of the Ways & Means Committee of their power to make committee assignments (a power held since 1911). Instead the Steering & Policy Committee - a partly elected & partly leadership appointed body - got the power.
  • making the election of all Chairs by secret ballot. This was to be automatic
  • nominations of Appropriation sub-committee Chairs had to be approved by a caucus vote
  • the Speaker was given the power to nominate all Democratic members of the Rules Committee
In January the freshman class invited all the Chairs of committees to meet them. In the first few days of the new Congress three Chairs were not re-elected! (see post on Wright Patman)

Later in the Congress both parties in the House of Representatives opened their party meetings (Democrats - Caucus; Republicans - Conference). In the Senate the filibuster rule was modified on March 7th - bring the number required down from 67 to 60 (2/3rds to 3/5ths). It was supposed to reduce the impact of the filibuster! As a recent Washminster post outlines - it was not successful - and new moves may come in 2011.

Despite the large Democrat majority in the House, there were problems in getting legislation through. Partly this was due to internal divisions within the Democratic caucus - something President Ford was able to exploit in his use of vetoes. Farrell notes that "By Election Day, 1976, Ford would veto 59 bills and have but 12 vetoes overridden."

At the November 1976 the Democrats gained one seat in the House and one seat in the Senate.