The 100th day of the Bill Clinton presidency...

TOMORROW IS

April 29, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

TOMORROW IS the 100th day of the Bill Clinton presidency. But April 30 was not the 100th day of the presidency which made "a hundred days" the yardstick for success.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4 (1933), not January 20, which is when Clinton and post-FDR presidents are inaugurated. So FDR's first 100 days in office did not end till June 11.

Actually, historians put the end of his "hundred days" at June 16. Congress had adjourned on the 15th, and on the 16th Roosevelt signed into law the last of an impressive number of acts passed by Congress in an unprecedented March, April, May and June.

From March 4-June 16 is 105 days. However, historians do not start the "hundred days" of FDR on March 4, when he was inaugurated, but on March 9, when the first session of the new Congress began. March 9-June 16 is 100 days.

Now, this was a special session of the Congress, called by the president. Prior to 1933, Congress had a goofy arrangement whereby it held one long session, lasting about eight months, that did not start till 13 months after the election. The second session was short, and did not start until the following December and ran about three months.

Thus these second sessions came after an election in which, often, members were defeated. So they served and legislated for three months after being dumped. These members were called lame ducks. In 1933 the Constitution was amended to start terms of presidents and Congress on Jan. 20 -- beginning in 1934. There was one last lame duck session of the Congress elected in 1930.

In a sense Congress spent 194 days to produce the record of the "hundred days." That's how long the lame ducks and the new members of Congress were in session from Dec. 5, 1932 to June 16, 1933. And some of what the lame ducks did contributed to the speed in the new session. For example, one of the bills FDR signed June 16 passed the lame duck Senate. The lame duck Congress also sent to the states an amendment to the Constitution ending Prohibition, which made it easy for FDR in the "hundred days" to get a bill passed legalizing beer.

In addition, the following were produced in FDR's hundred days: banking laws, end of the gold standard, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, laws providing for the refinancing of farm and home mortgages, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and more, including the Economy Act, which allowed the president to reduce the pay of federal officials, including members of Congress.

That last became law just 10 days after FDR asked for it. You think that was fast? FDR asked Congress to legalize beer on a Monday. The House approved it the next day. The Senate approved it that Thursday. If you were taking a pay cut, you'd want a couple of brews, too.

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