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Susan Green

As Legislative Machinery Begins to Grind

Lobbies Grease Congress Wheels

(24 January 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 4, 24 January 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The legislative machinery of the country is in place, is oiled up, and is ready for production. The messages from the White House have been delivered. All Congressional committees have been constituted. The wheels of legislative production are turning.

Already a number of bills have been introduced. Public hearings are being arranged. Witnesses have been summoned or have asked to appear.

All this is the visible equipment used in making the laws by which we live. This 81st Congress will be legislating on matters of war or peace, of housing, of social security, of health, of civil rights, of unemployment or employment for the workers.

Under the Surface

This visible equipment that we have seen going into action in these first weeks of January is, however, only part of the mechanics of legislating. It is only the part that shows. Government is very like an iceberg – there is more, much more under the surface than above.

Under the surface is, for example, general ideology of the men and women who will be making the laws for us. Both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are men and women limited in their conceptions and in their actions by the boundaries set by capitalism. In legislating on domestic issues they will be basically loyal to private enterprise and the profit system. In legislating on foreign issues they will be subtly motivated by the ingrained desire to further the interests and power of American capitalism. This is the fundamental ideological coloration of the Congress.

The “liberalism” that was voted into office last November may change the shade slightly but hardly the color of the Congress. It is a “liberalism” stemming primarily from the desire of politicians to save capitalism from communism by making the former more acceptable to the people. No small consideration is the growing conviction of politicians that these days “liberalism” pays off in votes. The “liberalism” in the 81st Congress cannot be identified with the will of the people to struggle for a better and freer life.

Concretely, the Congress is made up of lawyers, businessmen, brokers, college professors, local politicians risen to higher estate. Some are definitely pledged to private interests whom they will represent on the floors of Congress.

How many true representatives of the people are there? How many steel, auto, textile workers sit in Congress? How many housewives?

So this is some of the sub-surface substance of the Congress that will be legislating for the people. But this is not all. Congress will be beset by the swarm of lobbyists that have already descended upon Washington for their sub-surface participation in the making of the laws. The lobbyists have another function too – they influence the distribution of government contracts. Today Washington is the biggest business center on earth.

Lobbies at Work

Lobbyists’ methods are devious. There is the social touch; cocktail parties, dinners, dances, to which the right people are invited. Sometimes they are given by women in the social register who seemingly have nothing to do with the dirty business of politics. Robert Allen, broadcasting from Washington on January 9, told of the massing of this army of lobbyists, and he reported on one of the first social functions of the season attended by some 200 incorruptible legislators. The cost of such shindigs should not be mentioned to housewives waiting at the meat counters, or they might get mad.

Lobbyists also generously supply technical information to legislators drafting laws – information guaranteed to be strictly untainted! They get themselves to testify before legislative committees, presenting the views they sponsor. Mainly and above all, they try to win over key congressmen.

Expert lobbyists “earn” as much as $25,000 a year plus elaborate expense accounts. In 1947 a real estate lobbyist received a fee of $250 a day plus an expense account. Back of the important lobbyists are larger staffs of researchers. While the law requires lobbyists to register, many conceal the identity of their clients by registering as employed by law firms, and up to date the registration requirement has meant nothing at all.

In 1947, out of 676 registered lobbyists, 317 represented business. The number of lobbyists does not by any means determine their strength. It is the money behind them that counts; needless to say, business supplies its lobbyists with the wherewithal.

There is, of course, the powerful NAM lobby representing all business. At its recent convention NAM pledged itself and its money to fight to retain the Taft-Hartley law or to preserve the main provisions in other legislation. Under the surface, NAM is going to have a lot to do with what happens to the Taft-Hartley law.

Another powerful lobby that will be working overtime ON Congress is the real estate fraternity. If they can’t prevent a rent control law, they want at least to tone it down to suit real estate interests. Another thing this lobby is out to do is to kill public housing. The building business does not find a housing shortage bad for profits, and objects to government interference. Under the surface, the landlords and the real estate interests will also be legislators.

Labor’s Intervention

With this fuller view of the mechanics of producing legislation, one must fear for the future.

But, we are told, labor also maintains a powerful lobby in Washington. True, and an illuminating comment it is on the labor bureaucrats who find the methods of business most compatible with their own outlook. True, but the labor lobby was not powerful enough to prevent the passage of the Taft-Hartley law! However, when the CIO and AFL organized the voting power of the working people in the election, the pro-Taft-Hartley candidates of the NAM were thoroughly beaten.

At the sub-surface game of lobbying, business will always have the edge on labor because labor’s strength does not lie in such “business methods.” Labor must stand on its open, avowed, recognized power of overwhelming numbers, of indispensability in production, of its common interest with all the struggling and discontented.

In spite of the optimism expressed by Phil Murray and Bill Green – along with constant reminders to the Democratic Party that it owes its victory to labor – the fact remains that this 81st Congress is not too different from others. And the fact also remains that to date Phil Murray and Bill Green have done nothing to give political expression to labor’s power in an independent labor party. They refuse to break through the capitalist- imposed limits which make the future so uncertain and so insecure.

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