Ronald Reagan played “brand-name politics” with the House of Representatives and his budget version won over the Democrat’s alternative. Legislators were asked to vote either for or against Reagan, Madison Avenue-style.
Picture the scene. On Friday, June 26, the 435 members of the House of Representatives voted on the Reagan budget without knowing what was in the budget. In fact, they first received the hundreds of pages, complete with handwritten scrawls and a secretary’s telephone number, just before noon.
To call it a disgrace in_ legislative drafting would take the buffoonery out of the Republican’s performance. The Reaganites were selling the brand name like so much Clorox. It was unnecessary to subject what was inside the package to committee hearings and markups as the House used to do for some 200 years.
Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill say the battle is not over. He has some new tactics up his sleeve when the House returns to work after the July 4 recess. That may be so, but it is clear that the speaker has very little organized Democratic Party support outside the House. If he did, one could anticipate the following moves to bring back some of the 29 defecting Democrats who deserted the party and voted for Reagan.
First, party organizers would go into the defectors’ districts and widely inform citizens of what the Reagan budget means to them.
In Congressman Daniel Mica’s Florida district, for example, elderly residents may be interested in learning about Social Security cuts. Parents may learn about the loss of financial aid that was available to their children away at college. Poor people in his district may bewail the loss of child nutrition programs while more than $300 million went to a boondoggle, waste-ridden breeder reactor project in Tennessee. Scientists would question why the funds for the National Science Foundation were cut off along with research budgets of the Department of Energy. (The latter cuts were a mistake, say some embarrassed Republicans.)
Spelling out concretely for all Americans in these defectors’ districts what these transfers from the needy and elderly to the greedy and corporate mean to their daily lives would be the natural agenda for an opposition party. But the Democrats seem incapable of taking advantage of this opening even to the degree of going after the liberal Northern Republican members from New York, Massachusetts and Vermont who voted for the Reagan brand name.
Imagine the public reaction if citizens learned that the Democrats’ budget versions are equal to or lower than the Reagan budget. The real arguments revolve around who gets the funds—large corporations on federal subsidies or the neediest and most helpless members of our society. Thus far the corporations are winning with their sugar and interest-rate subsidies, with their intricate energy windfalls and tax loopholes. They are winning, not suprisingly, because Ronald Reagan is their man in the White House.
But Reagan may have tried to ram too much too soon down the Democrat controlled House of Representatives. Even, Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-Ill.) is resenting the strong-arm pressure of Reagan budget director David Stockman, who Michel considered a pipsqueak when Stockman was a second-term congressman last year.
Brand-name politics wear thin when the consequences strike home on Main Street and Elm Street U.S.A. -But will the Democrats take advantage by clearly differentiating themselves from Republicans? It is doubtful. Some are occupying themselves with trying to sneak through the House a special tax break exclusively benefiting members of the U.S. Congress, who are not satisfied with salaries of more than $60,000 a year plus many perks.
That goody was slipped into an obscure appropriations bill by Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The full House is expected to vote on this special bonanza later this month. So much for the opposition party standing for a little self-restraint.
CLARIFICATION: In an earlier column I wrote that the Sunday news interview shows gave far more time to corporate executives than to labor leaders. This is accurate for the aggregate total of all three shows together. However, Bill Munroe of “Meet The Press” accurately informed me that “Meet The Press” by itself accorded labor leaders more program time than it gave to corporate managers in the last five years.