Congressional Sabotage, April 25, 1918



Congressional Sabotage

To the Editor:

When a man throws pebbles into the machinery of a sawmill, to stop production, we shout "sabotage." Prof. Veblen has recently shocked respectable society by applying the same term to those proprietors who are responsible for shutting down one-half of our manufactories one-half of the time to stop production so as to raise prices. Representative [Alvan] Fuller has just raised the ire of his colleagues by exposing to the innocent public the stoppage of production of the public's work by artificial clogging of Congressional machinery. This form of sabotage has been well exposed in The Search Light on Congress by its editor, Mr. Haines.

It is well for the honest constituent patriotically conserving food and fuel to ask whether his representatives cannot better conserve time and taxes at this critical time when every form of stopping production is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Congress has 59 standing committees, two-thirds of which are said to be needless and seldom if ever meet. These might be harmless were it not that the chairmen being appointed and not selected by their members, and having control of large sums of clerk hire are able to create patronage and to work for political ends. Each Congressman is paid $1,500 a year for his secretary (making a total of $600,000), and there is no public accounting for it. The sum is often looked upon in the light of a perquisite and there is no certainty that it is used for clerical work. Says Mr. Haines, "The American Congress is about the only parliamentary body in the world which is now organized on a basis of plunder and spoils. Committee chairmanships are used by the leaders as subtle bribes by which they build an organization."

For some delays and hindrances originating in obsolete conditions, an amendment to the Constitution will be required, but for many others, nothing but public sentiment and a simple change of rules is needed to remove temptation to graft, unwholesome secrecy and sabotage. The first thing needed is a simple, unequivocal rule which would give the House itself direct, easily exercised authority over changes in its rules. Today public business is delayed, crying abuses uncorrected, and earnest new members who want to be of use are bound hand and foot by a vicious system that lets a ruling minority control. The rules make the chairman and two or three ranking members of each standing committee practically masters of the whole House. All committees are organized in such fashion as to promote privilege and "pork" and the average man is reduced to a rubber stamp or figure-head, practically forced constantly to "tip" his constituents with pensions, local improvements, etc., if he is to be returned.

A simple rule would abolish secret sessions and give healthy publicity to the doings of committees, which should assemble openly and keep a public record of their proceedings, for their work is probably more important than that of the House itself. There is nothing to hinder the Congressional Record printing bulletins and posting notices of committees if they will say the word. The vast amount of time consumed in roll calls could be saved by an electric device which would record accurately each vote in two or three minutes.

Next autumn a Congress will be elected that will probably see the war's end and the beginning of reconstruction of a more or less chaotic and impoverished world. The type of man who is to be chosen becomes a matter of extraordinary importance. The times demand men of a patriotism that is divorced from the methods of patronage and privilege. There must be a stern demand that clogging obstacles be removed, that the public demand for "pork" shall cease, that all Congressional machinery be cleaned and oiled and renovated. Today an outgrown system, coddled by privileged members, ignored by an uninformed public, creates a Congress that cannot truly express the American mind, and is lacking in vision and vitality.

And so the King's business waits.