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"Precedented" Congressional Obstruction?

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Jim Bales:

“Precedent? Megan McArdle keeps using that word: Ms McArdle has a piece in which she claims that the Republican obstructionism in Congress to the Obama Administration has a precedent in Democratic obstructionism in Congress to the Hoover Administration.

Sadly, Ms McArdle presents no evidence to support her assertion.

The closest she comes to evidence is quoting Prof. David Kennedy, of Stanford’s History Department, as saying:

Hoover also faced a very obstructionist Democratic Congress–they understood, as these guys do today, that if they just go in the middle of the road and refused to move, that would benefit them at the next election.  And it paid off….

A simple measure of obstructionism in the Senate is the number of cloture motions introduced over the two years of a particular Congress. (If one does not consider this a measure of obstructionism, then one needs to explain how filibustering is not obstruction.) As the Republican leader in the Senate, McConnell’s obstructionism in the 111th Congress (2009-10) led to a mere 136 cloture motions. So far (as of Oct. 12) the 112th Congress has had 32 cloture motions. This level of obstructionism is, according to Ms McArdle, “quite precedented“. In fact, she claims that the precedent can be found in the 71st and 72nd Congresses (1929-31 and 1931-33).

Just how obstructionist were those anti-Hoover Democrats? In the 71st Congress there was precisely one (1) motion for cloture. Such motions skyrocketed in the 72nd Congress, when those dastardly Democrats forced two (2) of them. If precedent means what the rest of us think it means*, Ms McArdle is claiming that forcing a motion for cloture three times over four years is precedent for forcing 136 such motions over two years (and 168 such motions in less than three). On the other hand, maybe precedent actually means whatever it is she thinks it means.

Damned if I can see what is was that Hoover wanted to do about the Great Depression that was "obstructed" by the Congress.

The Hoover proposals that Congress appears to have blocked were (i) Hoover's 1930 nomination of a racist Supreme Court justice, and (ii) Hoover's 1932 tax plan to try to balance the budget by imposing a nationwide sales tax on manufactured goods.

Hoover vetoed (i) the Bonus Bill of 1931 (overridden), and (ii) Wagner's bill establishing state-level employment agencies,

Congress and Hoover agreed on (i) the Smoot-Hawley tariff "reform" (albeit with "export debentures" that Hoover opposed), (ii) to establish the RFC, (iii) to fund the ERCA, (iv) Norris-LaGuardia, (v) the Home Loan Bank, (vi) the Glass-Steagal Bank Credit Act, and (vii) to reject the Bonus Army's demands in 1932.

Republicans controlled the House until 1933. Republicans controlled the Senate from 1929-1931, and then the Democrats gained a majority in 1933.

  • Hoover's nomination of John J. Parker to the Supreme Court, rejected by the Senate in early May 1930 with 41 Senators voting "no" and 39 voting "yes".

  • The Smoot-Hawley tariff bill rejected Hoover's desire to avoid "export debentures". Hoover, however, did not veto but signed Smoot-Hawley in June 1930.

  • Congress passed the Veterans' Bonus Bill in the winter of 1931. Hoover vetoed it. Congress overrode him.

  • Robert Wagner of New York sponsored bills for the collection of unemployment statistics and the planning of public works. Hoover signed them, but vetoed a third Wagner bill related to unemployment, which would have set up a system of employment agencies at the state level, was vetoed by Hoover.

  • Hoover called in June 1931 for a one-year moratorium on intergovernmental [international] debts.

  • In the early fall of 1931, Hoover convinced leading bankers to voluntarily organize the National Credit Corporation, which would use a $500 million reserve to aid small, insolvent banks…

The Democrats took control of the Senate for 1931-1933:

  • In late 1931, Hoover changed his approach to fighting the Depression. He justified his call for more federal assistance by noting that "We used such emergency powers to win the war; we can use them to fight the Depression, the misery, and suffering from which are equally great."… The National Credit Corporation quickly proved insufficient…. [T]he Hoover administration drafted legislation for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC)…. Congress created the RFC in early 1932…

  • Hoover also bowed to growing public and congressional pressure for emergency federal relief. In the summer of 1932, he signed the Emergency Relief Construction Act, which provided $2 billion for public works projects and $300 million for direct relief programs run by state governments. He also signed the Glass-Steagal Bank Credit Act and the Home Loan Bank Act…

*[I]n March 1932, Hoover signed the Norris-La Guardia Anti-injunction Act…

  • [I]n 1932… the President became embroiled in a political spat with Congress over taxes…. Hoover wanted to close the federal government's budget deficit… by raising taxes…. Hoover and his advisers did not want to raise taxes so much that wealthy Americans and businesses were discouraged from investing--an activity that, theoretically, created jobs… a plan in which half of the new tax revenues would come from a sales tax on manufactured goods…. The issue became a political firestorm. Opponents of the sales tax aggressively attacked Hoover, portraying him as a retrograde conservative…. [T]he Revenue Act of 1932 passed in the late spring of 1932 without a sales tax. Hoover signed the measure…

  • In late July 1932…. Hoover joined Congress in rejecting the demands of the "Bonus Army" marchers…. After Congress refused to grant the Bonus Army's demands, most of the protesters left Washington. Some, however, remained in the abandoned buildings, in nearby camps, and in hovels on the shores of the Anacostia River. The administration decided to remove the members of the Bonus Army…. MacArthur… attacked the veterans with tanks, tear gas, bayonets, and guns, burned the camps in Anacostia, and killed one Bonus Army member…