When the Senate Worked for Us
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Every politically sentient American knows that Congress has been dominated by special interests, and many people do not remember a time when Congress legislated in the public interest. In the 1960s and '70s, however, lobbyists were aggressive but were countered by progressive senators and representatives, as several books have documented.

What has remained untold is the major behind-the-scenes contribution of entrepreneurial Congressional staff, who planted the seeds of public interest bills in their bosses' minds and maneuvered to counteract the influence of lobbyists to pass laws in consumer protection, public health, and other policy arenas crying out for effective government regulation. They infuriated Nixon's advisor, John Ehrlichman, who called them "bumblebees," a name they wore as a badge of honor.

For his insider account, Pertschuk draws on many interviews, as well as his fifteen years serving on the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee that Senator Warren Magnuson chaired and as the committee's Democratic Staff Director. That committee became, in Ralph Nader's words, "the Grand Central Station for consumer protection advocates."



Publié par
Date de parution 26 septembre 2017
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780826521682
Langue English

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When the Senate Worked for Us
When the Senate Worked for Us
The Invisible Role of Staffers in Countering Corporate Lobbies
Michael Pertschuk
© 2017 by Vanderbilt University Press
Nashville, Tennessee 37235
All rights reserved
First printing 2017
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Cover design: Rich Hendel
Text design and composition: Dariel Mayer
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
LC control number 2016044846
LC classification number KF373.P478 A3 2017
Dewey classification number 373.7307/1
LC record available at lccn.loc.gov/2016044846
ISBN 978-0-8265-2166-8 (cloth)
ISBN 978-0-8265-2168-2 (ebook)
Float like a butterfly,
sting like a bee.
—Muhammad Ali
1 . An Accidental Bumblebee
2 . Jerry and Maggie
3 . A Bumblebee’s Crucible
4 . A Triumph of Passionate Truth over Power
5 . Hi-gh Spirits and High Gear
6 . Jerry’s Juggernaut
7 . Colonizing the Bumblebees
8 . The Flights of the Bumblebees
9 . Finishing Unfinished Business—with Bumblebee Guile
10 . Advise and Dissent
11 . Pushing the Boundaries
12 . Pushing Open the Closed Door
13 . Time to Move On
In a querulous conversation late in Richard Nixon’s presidency, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy director, bemoaned the torrent of new regulatory laws from Congress. These laws impinged on the freedom to harm, sicken, deceive, and pollute of the morally impaired business lobbyists to whom Nixon owed allegiance.
Signing progressive regulatory laws was hardly what Nixon had expected when he wrested the presidency from the liberal Democrats. It was as if John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson were still president. Ehrlichman didn’t dwell on the laws’ contents, but he fingered the culprits: not the elected legislators, not even the Democrats who still controlled the Congress, but their unelected staff members. These young hellhounds, he insisted, were goading otherwise sober and reasonable legislators into inflicting Sisyphean regulatory burdens on the already overregulated. As I vividly remember, he scorned the more aggressive staff members as “bumblebees, hovering around the honey of power.”
I was then serving as the majority Democratic staff director of the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Washington State senator Warren G. Magnuson. Ehrlichman was substantively right but semantically wrong: bumblebees pay no attention to honey; only honeybees do. But bumblebees do sting. Nixon felt that sting when he was forced to sign laws he disdained, many of which had been shepherded through Congress by liberal Democratic and several liberal Republican staffers. Failing to sign the bills would evoke broad public condemnation—fueled by the hated “liberal press”—or a veto override by the Democratic majorities and their liberal Republican allies in both houses of Congress.
Along with my fellow Magnuson staffers, I was bursting with pride over what we readily accepted as Ehrlichman’s backhanded tribute to our role in incubating a good number of the laws that plagued Nixon. “Bumblebee” would become our badge of honor. My own Bumblebee pride was soon boosted by the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Norris Cotton of New Hampshire, a senator who steadfastly voted against much of Magnuson’s consumer protection and regulatory public health legislation. Cotton proudly called himself a “mossback New England conservative” and was tight with the Republican Senate leadership and the Nixon White House, but he was also a close friend of his liberal Democratic counterpart, Senator Magnuson. Happily for me, their mutual affection trickled down to me and my Republican staff counterpart. Together with him, I often conferred collegially with Senator Cotton. The senator was always ready to tease me for my liberalism, and when we next met after Ehrlichman’s rant, Cotton gleefully reported that during recent strategic conclaves in the White House I had been singled out for scorn.
Ehrlichman was right in crediting staff members with a role in toughening the liberal laws that reached the president’s desk for signature. But he was wrong in implying that the impetus came only from staff. As James Q. Wilson points out in Bureaucracy , his examination of Congress, the liberal activism that we experienced was the product of “ entrepreneurial politics.”
“Elected politicians,” he explains, “won reputations and power by leaping to the front of public enthusiasm for environmental protection” and other popular causes, not least consumer protection and public health. 1 Ira Shapiro, in his encyclopedic celebration The Last Great Senate , affirms what Wilson asserts, narrating how senators of both parties, serving together on one committee after another, transcended greed, ambition, and partisanship to join across party lines and successfully promote landmark legislation on a wide range of issues that served public needs. 2 His account of the collaboration of virtuous senators consumes nearly five hundred pages. These pages are so crowded with good deeds that even Magnuson’s voluminous legislative accomplishments are squeezed into just two of them. The role of staff, however, is virtually invisible.
My own experience networking with staff members from other committees and senatorial offices taught me that behind almost every successful entrepreneurial senator was a team of facilitating staff. Many were simply doing the bidding of their bosses, but others were as ambitious as we were. Shapiro himself played vigorous roles in the 1970s as the highly respected staff director and chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, counsel to the majority leader, minority staff director, and chief counsel to the Governmental Affairs Committee. Yet he takes no credit for his part in the legislative achievements of the senators he chronicles and makes no attempt to convey the roles of other staff in those achievements. If he had done so, his book would be too heavy to lift. In one sense, then, this book is designed to complement Shapiro’s narrative of bipartisan comity among many senators in the 1960s and 1970s. But my focus is far more narrow. I present a selection of stories about the staff of one high-achieving Senate committee, powered by Magnuson’s Bumblebees. I believe that the multifarious roles we Bumblebees played are representative of the roles played by other staff members in the achievements of the senators and committees that Shapiro celebrates.
Our work, however, was unique. Between the early 1960s and the late 1970s, the number of progressive laws that came out of the Senate Commerce Committee bearing the invisible fingerprints of entrepreneurial staff comes close to the output of all the other Senate committees combined. As we shall see, the force that powered the Commerce Committee’s productivity was a harmonic convergence of the strengths, strategies, and needs of two monumental figures: Chairman Magnuson and my predecessor as staff director, Gerald “Jerry” Grinstein.
Grinstein brought to bear his passion for enabling the committee to do good; Magnuson brought to bear his formal power, strengthened by decades of Senate seniority, and the informal power born of the affection in which he was held not only by his Democratic colleagues but by many Republican senators who liked and trusted him. That esteem helped bring stability and concord to both the committee and the full Senate.
One result of Magnuson’s and Grinstein’s combined strengths was the unmatched expansion of the committee’s professional staff, most of whom were under their direct control. By the mid-1970s, the ranks of professional Magnuson Commerce Committee staff members had expanded to over forty, including several credentialed experts. In an effort to determine how to select Magnuson Bumblebee stories for this book, I turned to the work of David Price, who undertook an assignment from the consumer advocate Ralph Nader in the summer of 1970. With remarkable ambition, Nader had convened more than a hundred volunteers to produce unalloyed profiles of every member of Congress and every congressional committee. Price was assigned to the Senate and House Commerce Committees. He brought with him deep investigative skills and the experience of serving as a staff member for one of the Senate Commerce Committee’s public interest advocates, Senator Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett of Alaska. Price was so perfectly attuned to the workings of the Congress that he went on to be elected to the House of Representatives from his North Carolina home for at least thirteen terms.
In his work for Nader, Price focused on staff members who were “concerned with consumer affairs” and who “exhibited independence and activism.” He called them “entrepreneurial staff” almost two decades before Wilson adopted the label “entrepreneurial” for proactive senators. In his report, Price describes these staff members as “ ‘second-level experts’ with enough knowledge and sophistication to gain an overview of the areas with which they were involved, to be critical of information and recommendations received from other sources, to request and then apply information on their own terms, and to undertake translati

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