May 11, 1936 - National Affairs - Taxation, House Default
"Step by step," gloomed Representative James W. Wadsworth in the House one day last fortnight, "the House of Representatives is losing its place as an institution..... We do not originate much more than the enacting clause of most legislation."
The onetime Senator from New York could not have chosen a better occasion for his strictures on the decline of the U.S. House as a deliberative body. Up for debate in the legislative branch whose constitutional duty is to originate all revenue bills was the most important measure introduced in Congress this session - the Revenue Bill of 1936. Far more significant than an ordinary revenue bill, it proposed a historic change in U.S. tax policy. Of the 150 Representatives who turned out for the start of the first day's debate, only 34 were left by 5pm. Throughout the next four days of deliberation, an average of not more than 50 out of the House's 435 members were on the floor.
When the bill was brought up for amendment last week, the reading clerk rattled through it like a train announcer, skipping paragraphs and whole sections, flipping 3 or 4 pages at a time. Primed to offer an amendment, Wisconsin's Progressive Harry Sauthoff discovered that the clerk had passed his section, had to raise a point of no quorum three times and finally threaten to demand a careful reading of the whole bill before Democratic leaders would consent to a re-reading of the section. On the quorum calls the presiding officer, North Carolina's Lindsay Warren, glanced at the 40-odd members present, announced counts of 108, 102, 117. Three perfecting amendments offered by Democratic Ways and Means Committeemen were swiftly adopted, two by the Republican opposition were just as swiftly voted down. Total time for reading and amending the entire 236 page bill: 2hrs. 46min.. Next day 359 bewildered Representatives appeared to vote, passed the bill by a thumping 267 to 93.
Comments: The 1935 revenue bill originated in the Executive branch. The 1936 revenue bill originated in the Executive branch. This pattern has held ever since. No bill for raising revenue has originated in the House in the last 70 years. The Congress back then permanently surrendered their power over the public purse. The Executive presenting a revenue bill to the House Ways and Means Committee is not in accordance with constitutional procedure, even if a House member sponsors it and puts his name to it. This type of procedure is a farce.