6. A GREEN LIGHT IN THE SENATE
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190 6 A Green Light in the Senate Less than a year after Russell Long killed S. 3598 and dealt Javits and Williams a bitter defeat, the Senate gave them a resounding victory. The turnabout owed everything to the Senate Labor Subcommittee’s promotional campaign. Simply put, Javits and Williams had persuaded their colleagues that Congress should pass a comprehensive pension reform bill. Soon after Congress convened,Russell Long realized that the Finance Committee risked losing jurisdiction if it dragged its feet. What is more, Javits and Williams’s promotional efforts prompted state legislators to look into pension reform. The prospect of state regulation led business groups to reverse course and endorse federal legislation as a means of preempting con- flicting state laws. This development further strengthened the Labor Committee ’s hand because the Labor Committee, rather than the Finance Committee, had legislative jurisdiction to preempt state employment laws. These advantages allowed Javits and Williams to secure legislation that included everything that had been in S. 3598 and more. When the Ninety-third Congress convened in January 1973,pension reform had momentum.Senate minority leader Hugh Scott toldWhite House staffers who polled him for suggestions for the president’s State of the Union address, “This will be the year of health and pension legislation. These will be two gut issues for most Americans at this time.”1 Javits and Williams returned to Washington determined to press their advantage. On the first day of the new Congress,they introduced a bill identical to the measure Russell Long had killed several months earlier.By midApril,the Labor Committee held hearings,marked up,and reported this bill for action by the full Senate. Although Long again raised the Finance Committee’s jurisdictional claims, Javits and Williams had the Senate leadership and a majority of their Senate colleagues behind them. Astute politician that he was, Long A Green Light in the Senate / 191 quickly saw that the Finance Committee had to move it or lose it. In March Finance introduced its own pension reform bill and established a subcommittee to consider the issue. The content of any legislation the Senate passed would be determined in negotiations between the Labor and Finance Committees. Because Finance was the more conservative of the two committees, it would typically be expected to moderate the Labor Committee’s proposals.And since Finance was more powerful and prestigious, it would typically be expected to be a signi ficant counterweight to the Labor Committee. But pension reform was not typical legislation. Spurred by the work of the Senate Labor Subcommittee , many state legislatures had begun to consider regulating pension plans. The prospect of conflicting state laws led business groups to support federal legislation to preempt the states. The business community’s desire for federal preemption greatly increased the Labor Committee’s influence because the Senate rules gave the Labor Committee jurisdiction over laws regulating employment.If business groups wanted preemption,they had to get it from the Labor Committee. In return, Javits and Williams demanded a bill that did what they believed pension reform ought to do. the resurgence of congress January 1973 was an auspicious time for pension reformers to renew their campaign. The last months of 1972 convinced many legislators that Congress had to reassert its role in government. When Congress adjourned on October 18, lawmakers had not resolved a number of major issues, the most important of which was federal spending. Although the House and Senate agreed with President Nixon that federal expenditures should be cut, they could not agree on what reductions to make, and they did not authorize the president to make cuts.2 After Congress adjourned, Nixon took matters into his own hands, impounding funds though legislators had not authorized him to do so.3 Then, on December 18, Nixon ordered a resumption of heavy bombing in North Vietnam without consulting the congressional leadership .4 Political historian James Sundquist calls this “the low point in the modern history of congressional power vis-à-vis the president.”5 Nixon’s rhetoric and actions persuaded congressional leaders that they must reclaim their rightful place in government and put the president back in his. One thing Congress could do was seize the legislative initiative. When the Senate Democratic Conference held its first meeting of the Ninety-third Congress,majority leader Mike Mansfield“emphasize[d] that 192 / A Green Light in the Senate the Senate has a distinct mandate to assert its own concepts of priorities.”6...


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