According to PBS, it was on this day in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Civil Works Administration, “a component of his New Deal that helped America pull through the Great Depression of the 1930s by creating millions of construction jobs for unemployed Americans.” If you have a drink in your hand, please join me in toasting a great American President, and a generation of leaders that were able to cross political lines to do what was in the best interests of the American people at a critical point in our nation’s history.
Of course, we now live in a much different time… one in which our leaders, it would seem, are more interested in amassing wealth and power, than in providing for the general welfare of the American people… Ironically – because of this desperate need to stay in power – it looks as though there may finally have been a little positive movement on President Obama’s jobs bill in Congress today. Here, with more on that, is a clip from the Christian Science Monitor.
…In a show of rare bipartisan agreement, the Senate voted on Monday to begin debate on the bill by huge margin, 94 to 1. More than 15 other House bills, mainly focusing on creating jobs by curbing government regulation, are languishing in the Senate, with little prospect of a floor vote.
But with congressional approval ratings now at record lows – in the single digits – neither party wants to head into 2012 elections with a record of near-zero legislative accomplishment, especially on a topic as critical to voters as jobs.
In a nod to Veterans Day this week, Senate Democrats are also proposing a package to help returning veterans find jobs in a tough market environment. The amendment, which draws on work by the veterans affairs committees in both the House and Senate, proposes tax credits for firms that hire veterans, and increases incentives for hiring disabled veterans.
In a another shift in tone, neither majority Republicans in the House or majority Democrats in the Senate insisted on “poison pill” features that derailed previous bids at a jobs bill, such as raising taxes on the rich (a nonstarter for Republicans) or rolling back environmental regulations (unacceptable to Democrats)…
Let’s hope something positive comes of it.
While we’re on the subject of FDR, I also wanted to pass along a link to Ezra Klein’s column in today’s Washington Post. In it, he contrasts the environment in which FDR operated with the one we see in Washington today. It’s fascinating stuff… Most interesting to me was the revelation that it was often Congress that was pushing FDR to be more progressive. Here, with more on that, is a clip from Klein’s article.
…Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932, three years into the Great Depression. The unemployment rate that year was 23.6 percent. Obama won the presidency in 2008, mere months into the financial crisis; unemployment was at 6.8 percent. Consequently, the two presidents faced political systems prepared to do very different things…
Still, the basic truths of the period remain: By the time Roosevelt took the presidency, the Great Depression had done so much damage that Congress was ready to do something, anything, to end it. At times, FDR harnessed that energy in service of his agenda. At other times, Congress forced him to go further than he had intended.
For better or worse, that is a very different dynamic than the one that has prevailed during Obama’s presidency. It is hard to come up with even one example of Congress forcing Obama to go further than he wished, and easy to come up with many in which they forced the president to trim his sails.
This is not a defense of Obama, nor an attack on FDR. It is simply the reality of the American presidency. Congress can write legislation and pass it over the president’s veto. The president cannot write legislation nor pass it without congressional assent. The president comes after the Congress in the Constitution and is indisputably less powerful. Yet we understand American politics primarily through the office of the president and attribute, say, things that happened between 1933 and 1945 to FDR, or from 1981 to 1988 to Ronald Reagan. But Congress is always there, and so is the economic context that’s driving the agenda. We’d do well to pay more attention to both.
So, with that in mind, let’s raise out glasses again, this time to those men serving in Congress in 1933, who not only didn’t fight Roosevelt at every turn, calling him a Socialist, but actually pushed him to be more aggressive in his tackling of American unemployment.
And, here, for those of you who have time, is what I’m watching tonight.