House/Senate Historians: Part 2 of 3
Subj: History vs Current Events 94-10-10 14:34:57 EST From: RSmock
Jim, Your last question about the next Chairman of Ways and Means takes me outside my realm as historian and puts me in the category of political pundit or spokesman for a political party. As an officer of the House it is not my role to comment on current political matters regarding either party. There are plenty of people whose job it is to predict elections or to speak on current politics. So I must respectfully pass on this question. This is the same position I take if a member of the press calls me. Often it is not easy to separate history from current events but I keep trying to do it. Naturally, I have opinions of my own about local and national politics, but in my nonpartisan job the only way for me to maintain the trust and confidence of both parties is to avoid public statements which have current political implications.
Ray Smock, House Historian.
Subj: Re:History vs Current Events 94-10-11 12:02:18 EST From: JimGrealis
Your reply in itself was an excellent answer. I'll use it in class to demonstrate the seriousness of non-partianship in certain positions.
To be perfectly candid we kind of tried to put you on the spot and figured you would have to take this stance. Hey, at least we tried.
We'll be back.
Mr. G and Mr. M and class
Subj: makeup 94-10-11 19:40:28 EST From: RonAdams2
How has live TV coverage of Congress changed the way the Senate and the House conduct their business?
Does anyone critique televised sessions or offer advice to Representatives or Senators about ways to be effective onscreen ?
Subj: seating 94-10-11 19:43:26 EST From: RonAdams2
Could you give us a history lesson on the evolution of "seating plans" for the members of The House and Senate ?
Curious 7th graders in MA
Subj: Re:Consensus-Senate & House 94-10-12 07:45:36 EST From: BakerUSS
I would agree that the "gridlock" represents "business as normal that is just getting more attention." There is a good article in this Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review " section about the Senate as guardian of minority interests. Even the most junior senator of the minority party can bring things to a halt, and that is probably pretty much what the Constitution's framers would have expected. The current Congress actually accomplished a great deal, but because the expectations were so high for health care legislation and campaign finance reform, it will be remembered for what it did not achieve.
Subj: Re:seating 94-10-12 08:06:43 EST From: BakerUSS
Senators started sitting together by political party in the 1840s as legislative political parties began to develop. The Democrats sat on the left side facing the presiding officer and the Whigs sat on the right. (Today the Republicans sit on the right.) Until the 1870s, there were an equal number of desks on each side of the aisle. Since then, as one party wins more seats, those seats are moved across the center aisle. In the 1930s with as many as 75 Democrats, the left side of the chamber was jammed with desks and some members of that party had to sit "off the reservation" in the back row on the Republican side. The most senior members have the opportunity to sit near the front and close to the center aisle, although some prefer the back row, where they are in a better position to keep their eyes on the rest of their colleagues. Anyone who like to receive a current seating chart can write to their senators or to the Senate Historical Office, Washington, DC 20510-7108.
Subj: Re:makeup 94-10-12 08:29:20 EST From: BakerUSS
When the Senate first began to televise its proceedings in 1986, some senators paid a good deal of attention to camera angles, telegenic clothing, and makeup. The Senate chamber also updated its appearance for the cameras with the addition of dark blue carpeting, patterned damask wall coverings (so senators in the back row standing next to a blank wall would not look as if they were speaking from a bus station), and a railing behind which staff accompanying senators were supposed to sit. The American flag was moved to the right of the presiding officer so that it would not appear on camera to be sticking out of his or her head. A Senate flag was created to balance the American flag on the presiding officer's left.
In recent years, senators seem to have taken the presence of cameras pretty much for granted. The experience of running a successful election campaign is probably training enough for thsoe who seek to be effective on screen.
Subj: Re:has it always been this way? 94-10-12 08:48:03 From: BakerUSS
Golden ages always shine more brightly when viewed from a great distance. The so-called "Golden Age" of the Senate in the second quarter of the 19th century was, as the House historian suggests, "golden" mostly in the oratory of men such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. It failed to save us from a terrible civil war. During those years, the Senate and House often headed in different directions on major issues.
In 1964 and 1965 Congress passed a great deal of highly constructive "Great Society" legislation. Many of those bills had been stuck in the legislative pipeline for 10 or 15 years. The impact of President Kennedy's assassination, along with the legislative skill of President Lyndon Johnson and a clear national consensus for action, made the difference.
Subj: Re: Senate & House 94-10-12 09:40:44 EST From: BakerUSS
This is in response to Eadie's question of October 7 regarding acrimonious discussions of issues.
In one of its very first actions in 1789, the Senate adopted a set of rules that placed a great deal of emphasis on good behavior. Most of those early senators had previously been members of state legislatures or the Continental Congress. They knew how easily tempers can flare in legislative debate, so they made it a rule that members should be courteous and attentive while anothger is speaking: "No member shall speak to another, or otherwise interrupt the business of the Senate, or read any printed paper ...when any member is speaking in any debate." The current rules forbid any senator from attacking the motives or conduct of any other senator, or attacking any other state.
Although debate on a particular issue may become very heated, effective senators realize that today's opponent may become tomorrow's ally. In a chamber where a single unhappy member can easily slow or block proceedings, members go out of their way not to antagonize their colleagues.
Subj: House TV Coverage 94-10-12 15:42:07 EST From: RSmock
Reply to RonAdams2: After a few earlier experiments with television, the first going back to the opening session of the 80th Congress on Jan. 3, 1947, the House began regular televised coverage of its sessions on March 19, 1979. At first many of the members were conscious of the presence of the cameras and the brighter lighting in the chamber, but they quickly got used to it. Television has not changed the fundamental parliamentary procedures of the House. In one respect, however, it did change the way members conducted themselves. At the end of the regular legislative business members of the House can request time, up to an hour, to speak on any subject they wish. This is called Special Orders. Television did dramatically change the way some members regularly used Special Orders to reach a national audience watching C-SPAN.
In the early days of House television, members were advised to wear certain colors which tended to look better on television. The men often wore blue dress shirts and red ties because this combination looked better on television than a white shirt and a tie with a "busy" pattern. The same color coding applied to women's clothing. But such considerations are less important today because the television lighting and the cameras are better. I don't think very many members pay attention to the cameras in the same self-conscious way that some did in the beginning.
A related question has to do with what people think when they see the House in action. Many people have asked me why more members aren't on the floor during debate. Except at times when a vote is in progress the floor often appears empty, except for a handful of members. This does not mean that the absent members aren't busy doing legislative business. Many are in committee sessions most of the day and only come to the floor to vote. Others are meeting with other members, lobbyists, constituents, or their staffs, in their own offices. They know at all times what is happening on the floor because each office has closed-circuit television and all members carry paging devices that tell them what bill is being debated and the time remaining to vote. Once a vote is called members have fifteen minutes to get to the floor and vote.
Subj: Re:seating in House 94-10-12 16:01:37 EST From: RSmock
To RonAdams2 and some curious 7th graders in MA: One of the biggest differences between the House and Senate is the size of each body. There are currently 100 Senators and 435 House Members plus 5 territorial delegates in House. Since the House is more than four times larger than the Senate, seating has been handled differently.
The House used to have individual desks for its members, but this practice ceased in 1913, when bench seats were installed in the House chamber. Once the House size reached 435 it was impractical to fit individual desks in the chamber. The bench seating is arranged in a semi-circle before the Speaker's rostrum. The two major parties sit on opposite sides of a central aisle. Looking out from the Speaker's rostrum, the Republicans are on the left of the main aisle and the Demcrats on the right.
When the House had desks, before 1913, the assignment of seats was always a problem. In 1857, when the House moved into its current chamber, the members who arrived at the opening of Congress first, got the best desks. Members from far away states who sometimes had to travel days or weeks to reach the Capitol found few good desks left. Toward the latter part of the 19th century the members were assigned desks by a drawing. They placed their names in a hat and a blindfolded page (one of the young messengers) drew the names from the hat.
Once the desks were removed there was no longer any assigned seating. Members generally sit on the side with their own party but if a Republican wants to chat with a Democratic colleague they often sit down together on either side of the main aisle. The only assigned seats are behind the two tables in the chamber. This is where the leaders or the committee chairman stand or sit when they have a particular bill up for debate on the floor.
During Joint Sessions of Congress, such as the President's State of the Union Address, extra chairs are brought into the chamber to accommodate the Supreme Court, the Senate, the Diplomatic Corps, the President's cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other government officials who fill the chamber for these special occasions.
Subj: Respect 94-10-13 13:06:39 EST From: WDJones
Which member of the House and Senate is the most respected for his legislative work?
Subj: Pork Barrel 94-10-13 13:10:54 EST From: WDJones
Which member of the House and Senate have spent the most money on pork barrel legislation? Please give us an example of their waste of taxpayers money.
Broad Run High School
Subj: Counting Heads 94-10-13 14:32:34 EST From: FeliciaEH
Perhaps one or both of you can tell us how, when, and why it was decided to make state representation in the House of Representatives proportional (meaning that the state with the largest population has the most Representatives; the state with the fewest people has the smallest elected delegation), while in the Senate every state gets two Senators. Does this mean that states with very small populations have as much influence as states with lots of people?
Subj: Re:Respect 94-10-13 15:56:24 EST From: BakerUSS
Which member of the Senate is most respected for his/her legislative work?
As a Senate employee who works for all 100 members, I am not in a position to give you a direct answer. As a historian, I would be on more solid ground if I waited 20 years or so before making a judgment from the then -available evidence about the senators of 1994.
I am certain we could find citizens in every state of this nation who would argue vigorously that one or both of their senators deserves a great deal of respect for the legislation they have sponsored that in some way helps make life better for themselves, their families, their state, or their country.
In 1955 the Senate set up a contest to decide who were the 5 most outstanding former senators. Senator John F. Kennedy, who had just published a book about courageous former senators ("Profiles in Courage"), chaired the selection committee. The committee sent questionaires to historians and political scientists throughout the nation. They received letters recommending 50 or more members. Realizing that they faced a nearly impossible task--What do you mean by "outstanding?"--they settled on Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Robert La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin, and Robert Taft of Ohio. Another committee could justifiably have chosen an entirely different group.
Subj: Re:Pork Barrel 94-10-13 16:07:32 EST From: BakerUSS
If your senator succeeds in getting funding for jobs or educational programs within your state, you might call that senator a statesman. If the funding goes to another state, you might call the senator a thief of public funds. Since the beginning of Congress more than two centuries ago, Americans have, with great passion, assigned individual senators to both categories.
Subj: Re:Counting Heads 94-10-13 16:30:48 EST From: BakerUSS
The framers of the US Constitution in July 1787 decided on our current system of congressional representation under which states are represented in the House according to the size of their populations, while they are represented equally in the Senate.
This agreement is known as the "Great Compromise" that kept the delegates to the constitutional convention in Philadelphia from abandoning the difficult job of writing a constitution for 13 very different states. Under the then existing constitution (the Articles of Confederation) all states had an equal vote in Congress, which consisted of only one house. States with large populations did not like that arrangement, because it gave the smaller states the opportunity to block legislation that actually might benefit the majority of the nation's population that lived in fewer than half of the 13 states.
The compromise was to have it both ways--create two chambers: one that represents the people and one that represents the states. After all, the framers realized,.t the individual states would have to approve the new constitution. This arrangement would make sure that no matter what legislation the "peoples'body" (the House) passed, it could always be modified or stopped in the states'body (the Senate). The framers also provided in the Constitution that senators would be elected by state legislatures to ensure that the states kept some control over the national government. Not until 1913 was the Constitution amended to allow the people to vote directly for US senators.
In the Senate, Wyoming with fewer than 1/2 million people is equal to California, whose population is 60 times greater.
Subj: Re:Counting Heads 94-10-13 17:36:55 EST From: RSmock
The Senate Historian has answered this question well, and I have nothing to add. The House and the Senate may be quite different, but the House and Senate Historians are usually in agreement, except when he calls the House the Lower Body and the Senate the Upper Body.
Ray Smock, House Historian