The partial shutdown of the federal government gives the legislative branch a real opportunity to reassert itself and some of the prerogatives Congress had prior to the 20th century expansion of the powers of the presidency.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders should take a look at the actions of their predecessors in February 1944, when another Kentuckian, Alben Barkley, was the Senate’s majority leader.
Today about a third of the federal government’s offices and services are shut down due to an impasse between the president and Congress.
In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Majority Leader Barkley were of the same party, both Democrats, just as McConnell and President Donald Trump are both Republicans.
Barkley promoted FDR’s legislative goals as McConnell has promoted the goals of Trump.
But in February 1944, Barkley strongly opposed FDR’s budget bill, which proposed $10.5 billion (about $119 billion in today’s money) in new taxes. The House Ways and Means Committee reduced that amount to about $2 billion in additional revenue. It was incorporated into H.R. 3687 or the Revenue Act of 1943. The bill passed both the House and Senate. FDR vetoed it.
Barkley and others in Congress were deeply upset and offended when FDR denounced the vetoed legislation as a “tax relief bill providing relief not for the needy but for the greedy.”
Barkley called FDR’s comments “a calculated and deliberate assault upon the legislative integrity of every member of Congress.” Barkley resigned as majority leader in protest. Senate Democrats quickly re-elected Barkley as their leader, and Congress overwhelmingly overrode FDR’s veto.
About four months prior to World War II’s D-Day, the House of Representatives voted 299-95 to override Roosevelt’s veto of the Revenue Act of 1943. The Senate concurred by a 72-14 vote.
It marked the first time in U.S. history that Congress enacted a revenue law without presidential approval.
Both the House of Representative and the Senate should finish funding a budget for FY 2019. If it gets vetoed by the president, then Congress should follow the example of its processors in 1944 and override the veto and get on with the business of serving the nation.
Paul L. Whelan of Fort Thomas is an attorney and hearing officer.