Overzealous freshmen don't understand Senate

ON POLITICS

March 10, 1995|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- The late House Speaker Sam Rayburn used to counsel congressional newcomers that "to get along, go along." In the legislative world according to some of the Republican freshmen in the House and Senate, that advice is now being stretched to a point not only of slavish conformity but of rank intimidation.

The noisy but feeble efforts of House GOP newcomers and freshman Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania to put the squeeze on Senate opponents of the balanced budget amendment, specifically including fellow Republican Mark Hatfield of Oregon, are only the latest examples.

An attitude of righteous certitude, characterized by the behavior and remarks of House Speaker Newt Gingrich but echoed by many of his freshman acolytes, has gripped the newer congressional Republicans, driving them to excesses.

Witness, for example, the churlish spectacle of the House GOP freshman class marching en masse from the House side of the Capitol to the Senate the other day to "pressure" members of "the other body" on the amendment. They were greeted with the expected contempt that many senators, who regard themselves as "the upper body" of the national legislature, hold toward the 435 brethren who represent only congressional districts, not whole states as the 100 senators do.

The march of the wooden freshmen had to be particularly irksome to senators in light of the manner in which Gingrich & Co. in the House have seized the legislative initiative this year with their ballyhooed "Contract with America." Only in recent days have the GOP freshmen been reminded by the rejection of the balanced budget amendment, and the slowdown pace of the Senate, that the House is only one-half of the legislative process. It is a reminder the House eager beavers will get increasingly as the year advances.

Also during the Senate debate on the amendment, freshman Santorum, unfettered by the old Senate tradition that first-termers are seen but not heard until after they dry out behind the ears, bluntly warned that fellow senators who didn't vote for it wouldn't be around after their next election to stand in the way. Rayburn never would have resorted to such an open, hostile threat to get a recalcitrant colleague to "go along."

Institutional decorum, to be sure, was not something that voters seemed particularly concerned about on Nov. 8 when they informed Congress in no uncertain terms that they wanted business-as-usual to end on Capitol Hill. But it's doubtful that they had in mind, either, the manner in which some of these Republican freshmen are running roughshod over respect and civility toward anyone who dares to block their rush to achieve Gingrich's self-styled "revolution" in 100 days.

When it came to loyalty to the House Republicans' contract or to the right of a senator to vote his conscience, it was no contest in the Senate. Even ultraconservative Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina objected to the ill-conceived, failed attempt of Santorum and Republican Sen. Connie Mack of Florida to have the moderate Hatfield removed as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for being the lone Republican to vote against the balanced budget amendment.

Clearly, there is growing irritation among House Republicans that their Senate counterparts have not seemed to grasp the urgency, and the spirit, of changing in 100 days the way Washington works. While Gingrich cracks the legislative whip to meet his self-imposed deadline, bringing forth legislation with such minimal deliberation that House members can't even read everything they are voting on, senators of both parties blithely continue to insist on examining the goods before buying.

That, the House freshmen need to be reminded, is the way the Founding Fathers intended it to be and why the Senate rules provide for almost unlimited debate. There is a danger, if the bad manners, bad judgment and impatience that some House newcomers are displaying toward the Senate continues, that the Republicans in Congress may find themselves bogged down in serious intraparty squabbling. The embattled Bill Clinton would like nothing better.

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