How to break Washington gridlock: Limit campaign spending
We ended 2013 lamenting the political gridlock in Washington. Monday's headline in USA Today: "Election year finds Congress at War."
All rush to fix results of the gridlock but we need to correct the cause.
I saw it happen. When I came to the U.S. Senate in 1966, six Republicans and six Democrats met every Wednesday night at alternate homes for dinner - ties and coats off and giving each other the dickens. We became fast friends.
In a legislative body it's important to work together. Even if you don't care for a senator, you never let on. You act friendly because you never know when you will need his or her vote.
Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., had a rule never to go to a seated senator's state without his or her OK. All trips abroad had to be bipartisan. Last week, three Republican senators were enunciating U.S. policy in Afghanistan. We hope it was the administration's policy, too.
The Senate used to be a cohesive, courteous body.
Today, it's open warfare.
It began with fundraising.
In the 1968 presidential race, Maurice Stans, the financial chairman for President Richard Nixon, operated on "a cash and carry" basis. We wanted to get rid of the cash, corruption, and make sure one didn't have to buy the office. In 1973, Republicans and Democrats joined in a bill to limit spending in elections.
I can hear Sen. John McClellan telling Sen. William Fulbright, his fellow Arkansas Democrat, as we voted: "No Joe Kennedy is going to buy my seat."
But in Buckley vs. Valeo the Supreme Court set aside the law and unlimited fundraising began. The Republican and Democrat campaign committees joined in, and before long partisanship set in.
I'll never forget a staffer telling me about a fundraiser for my opponent downtown. All of the Republicans on my Commerce Committee were present except Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. I remember feeling: "If they want to get rid of me, I want to get rid of them."
Now we're calling fellow senators "wacko" and President Barack Obama "a liar."
With 12,000 lobbyists in Washington, there's fundraising morning, noon and night. Senators have breaks each month to fundraise.
We used to have a junior senator read Washington's "Farewell Address" on Feb. 22 and have votes later in the day.
Now we've merged Lincoln's Birthday, Feb. 12, with Washington's, and senators have a 10-day break to go home or Hollywood to raise money.
Lobbyists have taken control of Congress. That's why the president and Congress can't get votes on gun control, immigration, a farm bill, unemployment benefits, appropriations, the budget, etc.
This gridlock can easily be broken by limiting spending in elections like Congress did in 1973. A constitutional amendment is needed to get by the Supreme Court: "The Congress is empowered to limit or control spending in federal elections."
I introduced such an amendment that received a bipartisan majority vote, but not the necessary two-thirds required for a joint resolution amending the Constitution.
The National Governors' Association called and asked that the states be added. No doubt the states would promptly approve limiting spending. Once spending is limited, fundraising is limited, partisanship is limited, gridlock is broken, lobbyists are limited and the people regain control of their government. But there's a catch.
In 2002, 2003 and 2004, Republicans wanted to amend the Constitution with a flag-burning amendment and asked that I hold up my constitutional amendment limiting spending.
I had been waiting patiently to get a vote on my amendment so I couldn't agree. No joint resolution was called for consideration.
Now Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., with a dozen co-sponsors, has introduced an amendment limiting spending, but it hasn't been voted on for the past four years.
Senators don't want to vote to limit spending and don't want to vote against it. They have six years to fundraise and don't want to lose their advantage. Gridlock continues.
Last year, a lady asked my advice to run for the Senate. I promptly queried: "Can you raise $5 million in South Carolina?"
She exclaimed, "You're crazy!"
I countered: "You have to raise at least $5 million to show Washington you are electable. The national committees will come in and help with the other $5 million for it will be a $10 million race."
We used to do a good job in office to be re-elected.
Now, with pollster politics, the name of the game is stay out of trouble. Fundraise, but don't vote.
That's why we don't vote on budgets. Just pass a continuing resolution for an agreed amount and let the White House allocate and take the rap.
Only when the people are aroused by the cancer of money in politics will gridlock be broken.
Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings, a Democrat, served as governor of South Carolina from 1959-63 and in the U.S. Senate from 1966-2005.