History Q & A March 6, 2013: What Were the Top 5 Longest Filibusters? Number 1 Strom Thurmond Against the Civil Rights Act of 1957

HISTORY Q&A:

HISTORY Q&A:

Filibusters ain’t what they used to be

Source: WaPo, 3-6-13
 


Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., waves as he leaves the Senate chamber at end of his 24 hour, 18-minute one-man filibuster on the floor. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) launched an old-fashioned filibuster Wednesday… But it doesn’t appear that Paul is going to come close to the legendary filibusters — starting with Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” who was depicted as having spoken nearly 24 hours, though the 1939 movie only ran a bit more than two hours.

The record filibuster goes, of course, to former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond in opposing the 1957 civil rights bill. Thurmond, then a Democrat, held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes….READ MORE

Longest Senate filibusters went on and on … and on

Source: USA TODAY, 3-6-13

STORY: Sen. Rand Paul filibusters CIA nominee

The five longest filibusters, per Senate records:

Strom Thurmond — 24 hours, 18 minutes, 1957…

Alfonse D’Amato — 23 hours, 30 minutes, 1986…

Wayne Morse — 22 hours, 26 minutes, 1953…

Robert LaFollette — 18 hours, 23 minutes, 1908…

William Proxmire — 16 hours, 12 minutes, 1981

READ MORE

History Q & A February 11, 2013: Who was the last Pope to Resign from the Papacy? Gregory XII, the Last Pope to Resign in 1415

HISTORY Q&A:

HISTORY Q&A:

GREGORY XII, THE LAST POPE TO RESIGN IN 1415

Source: Daily Mail UK, 2-11-13

Gregory.jpg

Pope Gregory XII was the last pope to resign, standing down in 1415.

His resignation ended the Western Schism – a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417 which saw two rival popes claiming to be in office: one based in Avignon, France; the other in Rome.

The dilemma of papal allegiance arose following the death of Gregory XI, an Avignon Pope, in 1378….READ MORE

History Q & A February 11, 2013: How Many & Which Popes Have Resigned From the Papacy in the History of the Catholic Church?

HISTORY Q&A:

HISTORY Q&A:

Scandal, speculation surround past popes who resigned

Source: LAT, 2-11-13

The decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign is a reminder of some colorful and controversial moments in Roman Catholic Church history….READ MORE

In the Entire History of the Catholic Church, Only a Handful of Popes Have Resigned

Source: Smithsonian, 2-11-13

308: Pope Marcellinus stepped down from the position shortly before dying…

366: Pope Liberius also stepped down without a clear reason.

1009: Pope John XVIII ended his time as pope and retired to a monastery….

1045: Pope Benedict IX was the first pope to very clearly step down….

1294: Pope Celestine V is probably the most famous of abdicators….

1415: Pope Gregory XII resigned in an attempt to end the Western Schism….

2013: Benedict XVI.

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

BENEDICTUS PP XVI

History Q&A February 20, 2012: What is Presidents’ Day Officially Called? Washington’s Birthday — A Brief History of (What You Think Is) Presidents’ Day

HISTORY Q&A:

A Brief History of (What You Think Is) Presidents’ Day

The first thing to know: it’s not officially called Presidents’ Day

Source: Time, 2-20-12

Roger Viollet Collection / Getty Images

Roger Viollet Collection / Getty Images

To set the record straight, today isn’t actually Presidents’ Day. It is still known as Washington’s Birthday, according to the federal government and section 6103(a) of title 5 of the U.S. Code.

Give George Washington the credit he’s due, since this whole holiday thing started in 1796 when people began celebrating him during his final year as President. But even then, his Feb. 22 birthday wasn’t a clear-cut date. At that time, there was still a bit of confusion over the change in calendar systems, especially considering Washington’s birthday dated back to 1732. For those still using the old-school Julian-style calendar, which was in use in England until 1752, Washington’s birthday was Feb. 11. The Gregorian calendar, which took over for the Julian style, however, had his birthday as Feb. 22. That led to some confusion in the 1700s.

But our forefathers worked through their differences and landed on honoring Washington annually on Feb. 22, often with galas in Washington, D.C., and the tried and true U.S. pastime of drinking. The tradition of celebrating Washington continued for the next 90 or so years, and Congress made the holiday a law, giving Washington the first federal holiday to honor a person when they made it official in 1880….READ MORE

The use of Presidents’ Day as the name continued to grow in popularity, gaining widespread acceptance by the 1980s. Then, in 1999, due to Presidents’ Day having taken over as the accepted name, a pair of bills tried to force the official use of Washington’s Birthday for the holiday (Ronald Reagan’s birthday on Feb. 6 has added a fourth presidential birthday to the month of February). But there wasn’t much support for that, in essence offering Presidents’ Day a chance to celebrate not only Washington and Lincoln, but also all other presidents. Even Harrison.

History Q & A February 14, 2012: Why do we Celebrate Valentine’s Day? The Roman Origins & Christian History of Valentine’s Day

HISTORY Q&A:

 

Valentine’s Day: Why Do We Celebrate It? (Hint: Naked Romans)

Source: National Geographic, 2-13-12

An illustration of the Roman Lupercalia festival.

Ancient Roman priests are depicted striking women in a Lupercalia fertility rite.

Illustration by Labrouste Del., Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy

John Roach for National Geographic News

Where did Valentine’s Day come from? (Think naked Romans, paganism, and whips.) What does it cost? And why do we fall for it, year after year?

Valentine’s Day History: Roman Roots

More than a Hallmark holiday, Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, is rooted in pagan partying. (See “Halloween Facts: Costumes, History, Urban Legends, More.”)

The lovers’ holiday traces its roots to raucous annual Roman festivals where men stripped naked, grabbed goat- or dog-skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility, said classics professor Noel Lenski of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The annual pagan celebration, called Lupercalia, was held every year on February 15 and remained wildly popular well into the fifth century A.D.—at least 150 years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Lupercalia was “clearly a very popular thing, even in an environment where the [ancient] Christians are trying to close it down,” Lenski said. “So there’s reason to think that the Christians might instead have said, OK, we’ll just call this a Christian festival.”

The church pegged the festival to the legend of St. Valentine.

According to the story, in the third century A.D., Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. Valentine, it is said, flouted the ban, performing marriages in secret.

For his defiance, Valentine was executed in A.D. 270—on February 14, the story goes.

While it’s not known whether the legend is true, Lenski said, “it may be a convenient explanation for a Christian version of what happened at Lupercalia.”

(Valentine’s Day Pictures: Animal Pairs.)

Valentine’s Day Cards

The first Valentine’s Day card was sent in 1415 from France’s Duke of Orléans to his wife when he was a prisoner in the Tower of London following the Battle of Agincourt, according to the association.

During the Revolutionary War, Valentine’s Day cards—mostly handwritten notes—gained popularity in the U.S. Mass production started in the early 1900s.

Valentine’s Day Candy:

Fifteenth-century Aztec emperor Moctezuma I believed “eating chocolate on a regular basis made him more virile and better able to serve his harem.”

The Origin of Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day

The origin of Valentine’s Day is mysterious. Valentine’s Day comes from a figure in Christian history but the exact identity of St. Valentine is difficult to prove. Tradition holds Valentine was a priest in Rome, who aided and sheltered Christians in persecution under Claudius II. In addition, he married Christian couples under the newly found faith of Christianity. Valentine was caught, and sent to Rome to renounce his faith. Valentine was be beaten with clubs and was be beheaded. He was executed on February 14, sometime around year 270.

One tradition holds that Valentine himself sent the first “Valentine” card:

While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

Several “Valentine” names are mentioned in history with a connection to St. Valentine: One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern day Terni, Italy), or  martyred priest in Africa. Two of these two individuals seem to have suffered in the latter half of the third century and were buried on the Flaminian Way outside Rome, but at different distances from the city.

Valentine's Day

To confuse the understanding of Valentine’s Day and St. Valentine, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D.  Many Christian historians believe that Pope Galasius did this to Christianize the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, which was a bloody and strange observance.

All of this uncertainty might lead one to believe that St. Valentine was just a made up saint. A figure of the imagination of Christians looking for a story. A myth. Such inconsistencies cause doubt and leave a rather murky past for this holiday. But, one piece of evidence may prove that St. Valentine was an actual historical figure.  A catacomb was discovered from the third century that was dedicated to Valentine.

Regardless if there was one or two individuals named Valentine, it is clear that ancient Christians believed in Valentine as an actual historical figure that they dedicated a tomb to in his honor.  His story inspired early Christians to continue their faith under persecution. It wasn’t until famous writers, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, who made it popular to send love notes to lovers on Valentine’s Feast Day.

History Q&A: Was the First Thanksgiving a religious celebration?

HISTORY Q&A

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/hist_q-a.jpg?w=600

History Q&A: Was the First Thanksgiving a religious celebration?

If you want to prepare for Thanksgiving like a real Pilgrim this year, here’s what you should do: Cancel the plane reservations. Stop jotting down recipes. Leave the libations alone.

For the Pilgrims and Puritans, “thanksgiving” days were spontaneous and sober affairs.

When friends arrived from overseas, European Protestants defeated Catholics in battle, or a bumper crop was reaped, the Pilgrims dedicated a day to thanking divine Providence.

They would have considered it presumptuous to schedule a thanksgiving day in advance, said Francis Bremer, an emeritus professor of history at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. “It assumes that God is going to be good to you each particular year.”

The Pilgrims’ days of thanksgiving were usually spent in church, singing psalms, listening to sermons and praying. Work and playful pastimes were forbidden. When God provided, the Pilgrims were serious about gratitude.

Despite their reputation as buckle-belted killjoys, the Puritans and Pilgrims knew how to have a good time. They brewed beer, feasted on fowl and enjoyed sex — all in moderation, of course.

That’s why some historians believe the 1621 celebration that’s sometimes dubbed the “First Thanksgiving,” was not actually a “thanksgiving” day at all. In fact, some historians even call it a “secular event.”

“The 1621 gathering in Plymouth was not a religious gathering but most likely a harvest celebration much like those the English had known in farming communities back home,” write Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac in their book, “1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving.”….

The problem with defining the original 1621 celebration — besides the dearth of historical evidence — is the absence of a full-time minister among the Pilgrims, said Bremer. Religious rituals were not as formal as they would become when a pastor, Ralph Smith, arrived nearly a decade later.

In other words, the Pilgrims were winging it in 1621: Glad to be alive after a dangerous voyage, happy for a good harvest and excited about their future in a fresh, new land.

History Q & A: Columbus Day Myths

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

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HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

http://law.marquette.edu/facultyblog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/columbus.jpg

IN FOCUS: COLUMBUS DAY 2011 Q&A

Columbus Day: 5 Things You Didn’t Know

As today’s Columbus Day celebrations begin, marking Columbus’ 1492 arrival in the New World, here are some little-known facts about the explorer celebrated by Italian-Americans across the United States.

1.   When the  Columbus Day Holiday Began

In the U.S., it’s sometimes reported that the national holiday began in 1971, but that’s actually the date when Congress changed Columbus Day to the second Monday of October. In reality, Columbus Day became a national holiday much earlier, in 1937.  At that time, President Franklin Roosevelt declared the holiday would take place on Oct. 12 (the date Columbus first landed in the Bahamas).  But the first known Columbus Day celebration in the U.S. took place in New York City in 1792, long before it became a national holiday.

2.   Columbus’ Journal Was Intended for an Audience

When historians examine primary sources from Columbus’ voyages, they aren’t reading private diaries. They’re evaluating correspondence intended for the explorer’s sponsors, those he refers to as the “Most Christian, High, Excellent, and Powerful Princes, King and Queen of Spain.”  In that sense, it’s entirely possible that these journals were embellished, with some facts manipulated in Columbus’ favor.

3.   Columbus’ Bones Are Still Shrouded in Mystery

It’s still unclear where Columbus’ bones were finally laid to rest.

When Columbus died in 1506 his remains were taken to a family mausoleum in Seville, Spain. But nearly 40 years later his son requested that the remains be placed in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the capital of the Dominican Republic, where he intended to be buried. In the late 1700s the bones moved to Cuba, and 100 year later they returned to Seville. But in 1877 bones marked as those of Columbus were found by cathedral workers in the Dominican Republic.  Those bones have since been interred in the Columbus Lighthouse in Santo Domingo.

In  2006, the year of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ death, a forensic team found DNA from bones buried in a cathedral in Seville matched the DNA from Columbus’ brother, Diego. But at the time, the director of the Columbus Lighthouse insisted Columbus’ remains had never left the Dominican Republic.

4.  Pope Rejected Bid for Columbus’ Sainthood

In 1882 the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s fraternity, supported Italian Americans who rallied for Columbus to be recognized as a saint because they said he had brought Christianity to the Indians. Pope Leo XIII, however, rejected that request because Columbus had an illegitimate son with Beatriz Enríquez de Harana, his mistress.

5.   Columbus Brought Citrus to the New World

The history books note Columbus forcibly scored a lot of loot from the islands he visited, making off with gold, parrots, spices, and human captives from Haiti, an island he later named Hispaniola.  The “riches” pleased his Spanish sponsors, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, who were funding the voyage.  During the process, Columbus also carried European items to the New World.  In 1493, the year of Columbus’s second voyage, he brought citrus fruit seeds to the West Indies and the trees ended up in the West Indies, Mexico, and Florida.

Think You Know The Real Christopher Columbus?

Columbus Day is a national holiday, celebrated with parades and songs. While most Americans know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue, many of the facts surrounding the voyage remain misunderstood. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with historian William Fowler to set the record straight on some of the popular myths surrounding Christopher Columbus and his voyage.

TONY COX, host: I’m Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, we go to the West African country of Liberia as the country prepares to head to the polls. Many are watching to see whether the current president and modern Africa’s first female head of state will stay in power. That’s in just a few moments.

But first, today is Columbus Day, a day that schoolchildren across America celebrate the arrival of the man who was credited with discovering our country. But since 1492, we’ve learned a lot about what really happened. And today, we wanted to do a little myth busting about Christopher Columbus…..

COX: Now, Professor Fowler, not everyone gets a day named after them. Martin Luther King comes to mind, George Washington, Abe Lincoln had days named after them at one point, which have since been combined into what we now know as President’s Day.

But there are controversies about some of these holidays, particularly around Martin Luther King and now to a certain extent we’re talking about it today. In fact, Christopher Columbus, we have celebrated Columbus Day forever, you know. One hundred years, for sure, and then there was a break and then another 100 years before that with only some modern opposition to the holiday. Why do we, as Americans, hold the story of Columbus in such high regard still?

FOWLER: Well, in looking at history, Tony, people love certainty and they love heroes. And so, here we have the combination. We have a certain date, October 12, 1492 and we have a heroic figure, Columbus. So, you combine those two and it sort of just energizes people. It’s a very romantic concept. And then, of course, it is true that Columbus changed the world. That what Columbus did was to make a greater change in the world than any man had done since the days of Julius Caesar. That is what opened the door. So, Columbus did in fact play that extraordinary key moment, key time, a great heroic mission.

COX: One of the other things that he is given credit for, which I’m assuming is correct and you being the history professor can set the record straight for us, is that he did open new trade routes from Europe heading toward Asia, although he never actually got there, I think. And that he also was responsible for the trading of or the introduction of certain food stuffs and certain spices from one continent to another.

FOWLER: Yes, that’s absolutely true. This is sort of what historians sometimes refer to as the Columbian Exchange, and that is that products clearly travel from Europe and from Africa to the New World, and New World products traveled back to Africa and to Europe, as well.

So this is the beginning of this great exchange, much of it beneficial, some of not so beneficial, particularly when we talk about diseases. Of course, the European diseases that arrived in the New World just wreaked tremendous damage to the native peoples. So, much went back and forth now across the Atlantic.

COX: Professor Fowler, one of the things that has happened in modern time, as we mentioned in the introduction to this story, is that people are starting to push back on this myth of Christopher Columbus. When did the controversy begin and when did people begin to, you know, question, really, whether or not Columbus did what the history books told us he did?

FOWLER: Well, Tony, for hundreds of years following Columbus’ voyages, the story of Columbus is one of celebration, of discovery and of conquest. And I think in recent times, certainly in the 20th century and certainly today in the 21st century, thankfully, we’ve become much more sensitive about indigenous cultures and the harm, the wreckage that the European arrival here in the New World visited upon those people.

And so, I think, as we reflect on that and the cost to native peoples here in this world, the damage that was done, I think that sort of mellows the way we might be thinking about Columbus, not suggesting we blame him individually. I don’t think that’s correct. He was a man of his times. But there was great evil that was done when the Europeans came. Today, perhaps, we think of discovery. We might also think of the word, invasion, and the result of that. Much good has happened, clearly, but much evil happened, as well.

COX: Well, you know, it’s been a long time, Bill Fowler, since you or I was in elementary school reading about Christopher Columbus in our textbooks. What do they say today? Do you know?

FOWLER: I think that the textbooks, at least the ones that I have used and you see, are ones that are much more sensitive and do indeed talk about the harm done to indigenous peoples, and try to put the Columbian experience into a notion of cultural encounter, what happens when two alien cultures encounter one another. That’s something from which we can learn a great deal. What does, in fact, happen when alien – different cultures encounter one another, that’s a lesson for our own times.

COX: I suppose, to end, we should say that, eventually, maybe the poem – in 1492, Columbus sailed the blue – is going to have to be revised a little bit.

FOWLER: Oh, I have no hope that it will make wide public acceptance….

COX: William Fowler is distinguished professor of history at Northeastern University. He joined us from member station WBUR in Boston. Professor Fowler, thank you very much for the information and the lesson.

FOWLER: Thank you, Tony, and happy Columbus Day.

History Q&A: How Many Hurricanes Have Hit New England Before Hurricane Irene?

HISTORY Q&A:

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HISTORY Q&A

HISTORY NEWS: NEW ENGLAND HURRICANES IN HISTORY

 

SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | The Main Street fish markets in Greenport after the 1938 hurricane.

HOW MANY HURRICANES IN HISTORY HAVE HIT THE NORTHEAST?

Hurricanes Bob in 1991, Gloria in 1985, and Donna in 1960 reached the Northeast. The 1938 storm called “The Long Island Express” or “The Great Hurricane of 1938″ killed hundreds of people in New England.

    • Irene conjures memories of ‘great’ storm of 1938: It’s been nearly 73 years since the so-called Great New England Hurricane — one of the most powerful and destructive storms ever to hit southern New England. The storm now bearing down on the Northeast, Irene, has drawn comparisons to the one from way back then which, according to the National Weather Service, killed nearly 600 people and injured 1,700.
      About 8,900 houses across southern New England were destroyed. More than 15,000 others were damaged.
      It brought its wrath first to New York’s Long Island, then to Milford, Conn. It sped northward at 60 miles an hour. Tides were already higher than normal — as they are now with Irene headed this way.
      The Great Hurricane produced tides from New London, Conn., east to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod that were between 18 feet and 25 feet, the weather service says. Communities along the Narragansett Bay were devastated. Storm surges of 12 feet to 15 feet destroyed most of the homes along the coast there. A surge of nearly 20 feet left Providence drowning in water. Years later, the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier would be built to try to shield the capital city from repeat devastation…. – AP, 8-26-11

Photos: The Great Hurricane of 1938 — Fox Tampa Bay

Meteorologists stay course through storm of criticism: WCVB-TV (Ch. 5) chief meteorologist Harvey Leonard recalled the deadly hurricane of 1938 — the worst natural disaster ever to hit New England.
“Six hundred people died. Five-hundred died on the south coast of New England, primarily southern Rhode Island, without knowing what hit them.
You always have to remember, there’s a range of what can happen. We’re not God, but we have great tools to work with. We’re trying our best. You prepare for the worst. You hope for the best.” — Boston Herald, 8-26-11

    • Hurricane Irene: Ghosts (technically, video) of hurricanes past: Looking for something hurricane-ish to watch — but perhaps something that doesn’t suggest actual threat to loved ones? How about some video from the legendary Great Hurricane of 1938, aka the Long Island Express, aka The Yankee Clipper?
      That storm hit Long Island in September 1938 before making its way into Manhattan and then farther up the coast into Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Quebec.
      YouTube’s archives include two interesting compilations of footage from the time. The video above, uploaded by “moviemagg,” simply presents the facts in all their incredible glory — nail-biting images of houses being pushed off their foundations by waves, fishing boats being pounded against the shore, streets submerged by water…. – LAT, 8-26-11
    • New England hurricanes have been memorable: One of those, the infamous 1900 Great Galveston Hurricane, is No. 1 by far on the list of the nation’s deadliest hurricanes. With an unthinkable toll of 8,000 deaths, it will almost certainly hold on to first place for a long time. (Florida’s Lake Okeechobee storm of 1928 is a distant second, responsible for 2,500 deaths).
      As for Northeast hurricanes, the deadliest and most damaging was the so-called “Long Island Express” – the New England Hurricane of 1938 – a Category 3 storm that took more than 600 lives, including one in Nashua.
      The Great Atlantic Hurricane, a similar storm that hit New England in 1944, is lesser known, probably because lessons learned in 1938 led to much more warning and well-executed evacuations. More than 300 lives were lost, but most were at sea; just 46 deaths were recorded on land…. – Nashua Telegraph, 8-27-11
    • It was 1938, and few believed the fishermens’ warnings: Few believed the local fishermen who warned such yellow and red skies meant a major storm was on the way.
      There were no National Weather Service advisories or evacuation plans. It made landfall with little warning and with sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour, strong enough to be classified as a Category III storm today.
      The storm killed more than 600 people, injured more than 700 others and caused $308 million in property damage (an estimated $6 billion today), destroying and damaging thousands of homes.
      It will 73 years ago next month when the epic hurricane that would later come to be known as the New England Hurricane of 1938 — aka the Long Island Express because of its unusual speed — blew through eastern Long Island and New England, leaving death and devastation in its wake.
      Like some are predicting for Hurricane Irene, the massive eye of the storm — 50 miles wide — passed right over Long Island…. – Suffolk Times, 8-26-11

“The ’38 hurricane was the fastest hurricane ever measured.” — Dave Samuel, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania

    • Irene Evokes Great Hurricane of 1938 That Left 500 Dead in U.S. Northeast: The projected path of Hurricane Irene evokes a 1938 storm that left more than 500 dead after crossing Long Island, destroying the village of Montauk and battering Connecticut and Rhode Island.
      The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was one of the most destructive and powerful ever to strike the region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It made landfall in Milford, Connecticut, about 75 miles north of New York City, on Sept. 21, producing peak gusts of 186 miles per hour and tides as high as 25 feet on Cape Cod, the federal agency said on its website.
      Hurricane Irene, the strongest Atlantic storm to threaten the U.S. since 2005, is forecast to pass near North Carolina this weekend and slam into New England next week. Hurricane watches are in force for the North Carolina coast as 115 miles- per-hour (185 kilometers per hour) winds rip through the Bahamas, damaging homes, felling trees and triggering flooding, according to the country’s Emergency Management Agency…. – Bloomberg, 8-25-11

“It was something devastating—and unreal—like the beginning of the world—or the end of it—and I slogged or sloshed, crawled through ditches and hung on to keep going somehow—got drenched and bruised and scratched— completely bedraggled—finally got to where there was a working phone and called Dad. The minute he heard my voice he said, ‘how’s your mother?’—And I said—I mean I shouted—the storm was screaming so—’She’s all right. All right, Dad! But listen, the house—it’s gone—blown away into the sea!’ And he said, ‘I don’t suppose you had the brains enough to through a match into it before it went, did you? It’s insured against fire, but not against blowing away!—and how are you?'” — Katharine Hepburn on beach house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut

    • The Great New England Hurricane of 1938: A storm formed in the eastern Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands on September 4, 1938, and headed west. After 12 days, before it could reach the Bahamas, it turned northward, skimming the East Coast of the United States and picking up energy from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. On September 21, it crashed into Long Island and continued its way north at a speed of 60 miles per hour, with the eye of the storm passing over New Haven, Connecticut. It didn’t dissipate until it reached Canada.
      The winds were strong enough that modern scientists place the storm in Category 3 of the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The Blue Hill Observatory outside Boston measured sustained winds of 121 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 186 miles per hour. The winds blew down power lines, trees and crops and blew roofs off houses. Some downed power lines set off fires in Connecticut.
      But it was the storm surge that caused the most damage. The storm came ashore at the time of the high tide, which added to the surge of water being pushed ahead by the hurricane. The water rose 14 to 18 feet along much of the Connecticut coast, and 18 to 25 feet from New London, Connecticut to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Seaside homes all along Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island were submerged under 12 to 15 feet of water, and Providence, Rhode Island was inundated with 20 feet. Whole communities were swept out to sea…. – Smithsonian Blog, 8-25-11
    • The Great Hurricane of 1938: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the hurricane began near Africa during the second week of September in 1938, travelled across the Atlantic Ocean and up the east coast, made land fall in Long Island, New York, on Sept. 21. It terminated in southern Canada a day later.
      The hurricane moved at a brisk 60 to 70 mph, allowing it to travel from North Carolina to Long Island within an afternoon. Upon reaching landfall in New York, wind speeds were recorded at 121 mph and the water level rose a reported 10 to 12 feet. The Boston Weather Service Forecast Office reports that the Connecticut River reached a depth of 35.4 feet – 19.4 feet above its flood stage.
      The storm is said to have killed 564 people, according to NOAA. It injured more than 1,700, and caused $308 million in damage to the New England area – about $4.6 billion in 2009 dollars.
      Unconfirmed reports about the hurricane describe 20 foot storm surges, 190 mph gusts of wind, and six inches of rain falling in some parts of Massachusetts.
      Damage to houses and marinas was extensive. In all, about 8,900 homes were destroyed and 2,600 boats were sunk…. – Patch, 8-26-11
    • EARTH MATTERS: Robert Miller Dr. Mel says Irene may be our hurricane: It was 1954. Carol, one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit New England, damaged more than 10,000 buildings.
      It caused $50 million in property losses in Connecticut and $3 million in crop damage; New Haven, Middlesex and New London counties were declared disaster areas.
      After the famed — or infamous — Hurricane of 1938, Carol might have been the single worst hurricane to hit New England. A year later, the one-two punch of Connie and Diane caused the Flood of 1955. The giant, water-laden tropical storms hit the state five days apart and caused the worst natural disaster in Connecticut history…. – Danbury News Times

Photos from the Hurricane of 1938 gallery (24 photos) — MassLive

    • Survivors of Great New England Hurricane of 1938 share memories: Now as people have eyes to Doppler radar or ears to weather radio waiting for the arrival of Irene, they remembered the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 – a storm that Irene has been compared to by some…. – MassLive.com, 8-26-11
    • Hype or Hurricane?: Seventy-three years ago the Great Hurricane of 1938 (GH38) ripped through New England killing 700 people in four hours. The East Coast is now bracing for a storm that may be of equal magnitude. Yet newscasters keep talking about how “unprecedented” Hurricane Irene is… Huffington Post, 8-26-11
    • Cary Mock: Irene may be big, if not fiercest Northeast storm: Hurricane Irene’s sheer size will create a huge impact, even if it falls short of being an epic Northeast coast storm for the history books, a geographer and hurricane historian said on Friday.
      “It’s probably not going to be one of those where it’s the worst of the century,” Cary Mock, an associate geography professor at the University of South Carolina.
      “The storm surge is dependent not just on the winds but on the size.”
      “In New York and New England, just looking at the last 50 or 100 years is actually too small of a snapshot for a worst case scenario for hurricanes,” Mock said.
      “They actually called them gales,” he said, “or sometimes September gales because they noticed they happened in September.”
      In 1821, a major hurricane passed directly over New York City, “probably a strong category 4,” Mock said. Historical records show it caused a 10-foot storm surge at low tide, Mock said. “At that time, not that many people were living in New York, so people didn’t pay a lot of attention to it.”
      But William Redfield, the “father of hurricane science,” observed the 1821 storm, Mock said.
      Just as a debate goes on today over whether global warming causes more frequent or more intense hurricanes, the mid-19th century debate was over “the law of storms,” Mock said…. – Reuters, 8-26-11

Hurricane History

  • 1635 – The Great Colonial Hurricane struck Narragansett Bay on Aug. 25 as a possible Category 4 or 5. Details are sketchy, but the death toll is estimated near 50.
  • 1683 – A unnamed tropical cyclone hit Connecticut and caused tremendous flooding on Aug. 23.
  • 1693 – Another tropical cyclone struck New England in late October, causing flooding so great that new permanent inlets were created.
  • 1769 – A hurricane that earlier caused great damage in Annapolis, Md., blew boats ashore in Boston, Providence, R.I., and Newport, R.I., on Sept. 8. Many houses were blown down and destroyed.
  • 1778 – A late-season hurricane struck Cape Cod on Nov. 1, killing 50-70 people, 23 of them aboard the HMS Somerset III, a British ship that ran aground on the cape.
  • 1782 – A rare “snow hurricane” battered New England on Oct. 18-19. It caused widespread damage, but unknown deaths.
  • 1804 – Another, more severe snow hurricane on Oct. 9 dumped 2-3 feet of snow across the Northeast; causing nine deaths across New England.
  • 1815 – The Great September Gale of 1815 struck New England as a major hurricane on Sept. 23-24. A huge storm surge funneled up Narragansett Bay, destroying some 500 houses and 35 ships and inundating Providence. At least 38 deaths were reported across New England.
  • 1841 – The October Gale of 1841 dumped several feet of snow and sleet, wrecked the Georges Bank fishing fleet, drowned 81 fishermen, knocked down trees and destroyed homes, boats and the Cape Cod saltworks factory.
  • 1904 – A September Category 1 storm brought significant marine destruction and heavy losses across Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod and the islands.
  • 1924 – A powerful Category 2-3 storm lashed the Massachusetts south coast, Cape Cod and the islands, and then New Hampshire and Maine. It’s considered in many places worse than the 1938 hurricane.
  • 1927 – Torrential rains from a tropical storm caused record flooding across New England. Nearly 100 were killed, mostly in Vermont.
  • 1936 – Heavy wind damage across most of the region was caused by a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 18.
  • 1938 – The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 struck as a strong Category 3 on Sept. 21. Wind gusts reached Category 5 strength in some areas. The anemometer at the Blue Hill Observatory registered a peak wind gust of 186 mph before the instrument broke. Significant damage was caused in the Nashua area, and one death was recorded. It killed more than 600 people overall. It’s considered worst New England storm of the modern era.
  • 1944 – The Great Atlantic Hurricane landed as a Category 3 in southern New England on Sept. 15. There was severe wind damage in many areas, especially southeastern Massachusetts. The death toll was roughly 300; Archibald Dunlap was Nashua’s only fatality.
  • 1950 – A major, intense, offshore hurricane labeled Hurricane Dog battered New England, especially southeastern Massachusetts. It was the largest of all Atlantic hurricanes to date, with sustained winds of 75 mph and gusts to 100 for extended periods. The death toll is unknown.
  • 1954 – Hurricane Carol struck all of New England on Aug. 31 as a Category 3 with Category 4 conditions along the southern coast. It caused widespread, extreme damage. Sixty were killed; no deaths were reported in Nashua.
  • 1954 – Hurricane Edna hit the region two weeks after Carol, and also was a Category 3 upon landfall. Severe losses were recorded in Cape Cod and the islands and along coastal Maine. It wasn’t as damaging as Carol in the Nashua area.
  • 1960 – Hurricane Donna became the fifth major storm to hit New England in 22 years. It struck Sept. 12-13 as a Category 2-3 storm. High gusts were recorded across the region, with the worst damage in southern New England. The Nashua region suffered moderate damage.
  • 1962 – Hurricane Daisy produced hurricane conditions in coastal areas and well into Maine in October; Mount Desert Island was affected significantly.
  • 1963 – Hurricane Ginny followed almost the same path as Daisy.
  • 1979 – Hurricane David, originally a Category 5 in the Bahamas, was a strong tropical storm when it reached New England in September. It spawned several tornadoes; some damage, but no deaths were reported in the Nashua region.
  • 1985 – Hurricane Gloria became the first significant hurricane to hit inland New England since 1960. Widespread wind damage was caused in the entire region, especially the coast. Winds gusted over 100 mph in many areas. No local deaths were reported.
  • 1991 – Hurricane Bob landed as a Category 2 in New England with wind gusts well into Category 3, one of the smallest yet most intense hurricanes to hit New England since 1938. It caused widespread damage and frequent destruction, especially in coastal areas. There was significant flooding, including tidal surges. No severe damage or deaths were reported in the Nashua area.
  • 1991 – Hurricane Grace became the subject of the movie “The Perfect Storm” when she was labeled such by meteorologists after combining in late October with an offshore mid-latitude cyclone.
  • 1996 – Hurricane Edouard brought offshore hurricane-force wind gusts from Buzzards Bay east across the Cape and islands. Considerable losses were incurred on the Massachusetts islands; Oak Bluffs and Martha’s Vineyard were particularly hard-hit.
  • 1999 – Tropical Storm Floyd caused large power outages and flood damage across the region. Flooding, mudslides, and downed trees and power lines closed several major highways and countless local roads for days.
  • 2010 – Hurricane Earl largely fizzled in early September; it passed about 90 miles offshore, bringing only heavy rain, large waves and tropical-storm-force gusts to Cape Cod.
  • 2011 – Hurricane Irene?…  – – Nashua Telegraph, 8-27-11

History Q & A: What is the Debt Ceiling and it’s History?

History Q & A

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Everything you need to know about the debt ceiling in one post

What it is: The debt ceiling is a legal cap on the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to fund existing government functions. It essentially authorizes the Treasury to borrow the money necessary to pay the bills incurred by the federal government.

Where it came from: Before 1917, Congress authorized the Treasury to issue bonds for specific purposes. But that meant approving every bond separately. To fund World War I, Congress decided to give the Treasury more latitude by instituting caps on how much it could borrow through each type of bond, rather than forcing it to get every new bond approved separately. In 1939, this was changed so that most bonds were bound by the same limit, effectively creating the general debt ceiling we have today.

How has it worked? The debt ceiling has traditionally been raised as a matter of course whenever Congress passes spending bills requiring more borrowing, though the opposition party has often voted against increases to signal its opposition to the majority’s deficit spending. Between 1940 and 2010, we have increased the debt limit more than 70 times, and from 1979 to 1995, a House rule proposed by Rep. Richard Gephardt made increases automatic by raising the ceiling whenever new spending is approved. The new Republican majority repealed this rule in 1995 in order to use raising the debt ceiling as leverage in getting President Clinton to agree to spending cuts.

Why it’s an issue now: Currently, the debt limit is set at $14.3 trillion. Around Aug. 2, the Treasury will exhaust that borrowing authority. Because spending currently exceeds revenues by almost 45 percent, if that happens, we will either have to default on our debt or stop funding a substantial portion of the government. Congress could simply choose to raise the debt ceiling, but like the 1995 House GOP, the 2011 House GOP is insisting that it will not increase the debt ceiling without large spending cuts from President Obama.

What happens if we don’t raise the debt ceiling but continue to pay interest on our bonds? This is an option known as “prioritization.” The Bipartisan Policy Center released a report attempting to think through how this would work in practice, as it has never been attempted before. The raw numbers are chilling: In August, the federal government would have to cut expenditures by about $134 billion, or 10 percent of the month’s GDP. If it chose, for instance, to fund Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, supplies for the troops and interest on our bonds, it would have to stop funding every other part of the federal government. The drop in demand, when coupled with the turmoil in the markets and the general financial uncertainty, would undoubtedly throw the economy back into a recession. Also keep in mind that we have to roll over $500 billion in debt that month, and if there was uncertainty about how we were going to pay our bills, it is not clear we could find buyers for our debt at anything less than an exorbitant rate. In this way, “prioritization” could actually increase the deficit.

What happens if we stop paying the interest on our debt? This is too scary to consider for any serious length of time. Treasury securities sit at the base of the global financial system. They are considered so safe that the interest rate on Treasuries is called the “riskless rate of return,” as the market assumes there is no chance of default under any circumstances. Almost all other types of debt — mortgages, credit card, auto loans, business loans, hospital bonds, etc. — are yoked to Treasuries. Almost all major financial players hold substantial portfolios of Treasuries or Treasury-related debt in order to buffer themselves against financial shocks. Consider that the 2007 financial crisis was caused by the market realizing it had to reassess the risk of bonds based on subprime mortgages. If the market has to reassess the risk of Treasuries, the resulting financial crisis will be beyond anything we’ve ever seen in this country.

Do we need a debt ceiling? Strictly speaking, no. The debt ceiling is unique to America. In other countries, when the legislature passes a law, the Treasury is given automatic authority to carry it out. A number of former Treasury Secretaries have said it should be abolished, including Larry Summers, who said, “I think that given that Congress has to approve all spending and all tax changes, there is not much logic to the debt ceiling.”

Does the debt ceiling reduce deficits? In general, no. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examined this issue and concluded (pdf) that “setting a limit on the debt is an ineffective means of controlling deficits because the decisions that necessitate borrowing are made through other legislative actions. By the time an increase in the debt ceiling comes up for approval, it is too late to avoid paying the government’s pending bills without incurring serious negative consequences.”

Is the debt ceiling unconstitutional? A number of commentators have suggested that the 14th Amendment, which states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned,” renders the debt ceiling unconstitutional. Others have disagreed, including Lawrence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, who notes that the Constitution gives Congress the sole power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.” Ultimately, this point is probably moot, at least for the time being, as the Treasury Department has stated that it agrees with Professor Tribe’s interpretation.

What are the deals that Congress is considering in order to raise the debt limit, and could you rank them from most-to-least likely?

Sure.

* McConnell and McConnell-Reid: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed giving Obama the unilateral power to increase the debt ceiling, with Congress capable of blocking him if it passed and overrode his veto on resolutions condemning the increase in the limit. The idea would be to force Democrats to vote repeatedly in favor of increasing the debt ceiling, while allowing House Republicans to vote against it without forcing the U.S. to prioritize programs or default. House Republicans rejected this as a giveaway to the administration, so to make it more palatable to them McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been working on attaching $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and an expedited congressional process for approving them to the plan.

* A big deal: In negotiations with congressional Republicans, Obama pushed for a deal to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of discretionary cuts, changes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, and revenue increases achieved through cutting tax breaks. Specific options considered as part of this plan included an increase in the Medicare retirement age, reducing the rate of growth for Social Security benefits, and cuts to the employer health care tax deduction. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor rejected the big deal, but it appears to be making a comeback.

* A small deal: Negotiations between the administration and congressional Republicans uncovered between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in spending cuts that both the Democrats and the Republicans could accept. The Democrats would like to see these spending cuts accompanied by new revenues, but there have been some intimations that the Obama administration could accept a deal with $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and no new revenues. The most specific look we’ve gotten at these cuts came in a slideshow presented by Eric Cantor and leaked to the press.

* A clean debt limit increase: For the first few months of negotiations, the White House stated that it wanted a “clean” debt limit increase, not paired with any spending cuts or rule changes. When it became clear Congress would not vote for this, the administration abandoned the call and started working out a deal. On May 31, the House voted overwhelmingly against a clean debt limit increase, in an attempt by House Republicans to get Democrats on record supporting it. You can argue, however, that McConnell’s proposal is essential a clean increase.

* Cut, Cap, Balance: Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill, backed by the House Republican leadership, called “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” which would increase the debt ceiling in exchange for $111 billion in immediate cuts next year, statutory caps on spending, and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that includes a spending cap of 18 percent of the previous year’s GDP and would require supermajorities to raise taxes or increase the debt ceiling. If the amendment was ratified, spending would have to drop to its lowest levels since the 1950s — despite the fact that we now have Medicare, Medicaid, more seniors, etc. — and taxes would be almost impossible to raise. The White House has promised to veto the bill, saying that deficit reduction does not require changes to the Constitution, and that the cuts involved are draconian.

Further reading:

*The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s comprehensive primer on the debt ceiling.

*The Congressional Budget Office’s report on “Federal Debt and Interest Costs.”

*The Government Accounting Office’s report on past efforts to manage delays in lifting the debt ceiling.

*The Bipartisan Policy Center’s analysis of what will happen if we pass the Aug. 2 deadline without lifting the debt ceiling.

History Q & A: What Event in U.S. History Most Resembles the Debt Ceiling Crisis of 2011

History Q & A

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Debt Ceiling Showdown, 2011 & Shays Rebellion 1786: For Debt Crisis Lessons, Look Back 225 years

Shays' Rebellion, an armed uprising in Massachusetts in the 1780s, may offer lessons in today's standoff over the debt ceiling.
Shays’ Rebellion, an armed uprising in Massachusetts in the 1780s, may offer lessons in today’s standoff over the debt ceiling.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Same issues in today’s debate over debt crisis also drove Shays’ Rebellion of 1786
  • Nation’s leaders opted for robust U.S. government after uprising led by New England farmer
  • But debate still stirs about the size and power of the federal government
  • Compromise rarely has resolved protracted political gridlock in the U.S., historians say

(CNN) — America’s political leaders are paralyzed. The government is reeling from debt. Corrupt bankers foreclose on people’s homes as a brutal recession sweeps the land.

We’re talking, of course, about the great debt standoff of 1786: Shays’ Rebellion.

Nervous Americans glancing at the upcoming August 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling are being told that the nation is entering uncharted territory. But historians say they’ve seen this movie before.

Many of the same issues driving this modern-day standoff — disagreement on how to handle the national debt, ineffective government and a populist citizen’s revolt — drove the 18th-century uprising that’s been called America’s first civil war.

Historians say the lesson that can be drawn from Shays’ Rebellion and other transformative events in U.S. history is this: Protracted political gridlock is seldom resolved through compromise. It comes when one political party finally beats the other down.

Many Americans, however, have told pollsters that they want the political parties to work together to solve the debt ceiling crisis. Yet political stability doesn’t always come through give-and-take, some historians say

“There are times when only the outright defeat of political enemies can bring about needed reform,” says Richard Striner, a history professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

“It was only by confronting and defeating the aggressive leadership of the slave states that Lincoln and the Civil War Republicans rid the nation of slavery.”…READ MORE

History Q&A: How Have Presidents Dealt with the Nation’s Debt & Deficit in the Past?

HISTORY Q & A

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History Q&A: How Have Presidents Dealt with the Nation’s Debt & Deficit in the Past?

Room for Debate: Presidents and Their Debts, F.D.R. to Bush

Source: NYT, 7-21-11

Introduction

Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and F.D.R.Associated Press Clockwise from top left: Ronald Reagan and James Baker in 1988; Richard Nixon, who would later call himself a Keynesian, with Milton Friedman in 1968; Lyndon Johnson, signing Medicare into law in 1965, with Harry Truman by his side; and Franklin Roosevelt signing Social Security into law in 1935.

Polls show that most Americans are disgusted at the standoff in Washington over the nation’s debt. Aren’t they used to this by now? After all, battles over federal borrowing and spending go back to George Washington. Yet each era’s debates and decisions change the stage for the challenges to come.

We asked some prominent historians for their perspective on the background to the current drama, as the clock ticks down on negotiations to keep the nation from falling into default. What evolution in the role of the two parties do we see? How have deficits affected a president’s ideology, and vice versa? What are the important historical markers?

 Read the Discussion »

Debaters

Budget Showdown: Q & A – How Many Times in US History has the Government Shutdown Over the Budget?

HISTORY Q&A:

HISTORY Q&A:

How Many Times in US History Has the Government Shutdown Over the Budget?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

EPA USA BUDGET CONGRESS GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Night falls on the Capitol on the eve of a government shutdown in Washington, D.C.(Photo: Michael Reynolds, EPA)

Days to the start of the 2014 fiscal year Congress cannot come to an agreement for a continuing resolution that would keep the government solvent. Adding to the issue this time is not just a budget that the administration could not agree, but also the debt ceiling is reaching its limit about 15 days after the budget expires.

This is second time in Barack Obama’s presidency that a major threat loomed with the pressure of government shutdown. There have been 17 shutdowns in American history concentrated between the 1970s to the 1990s. This will be the 18th shutdown to hit Washington, and by October 17, the government would not have enough funds to meet its international loan obligations.

The government’s budget has been at the center of all previous shutdowns, and the 2013 budget battle is only different that there is the added threat of hit the debt ceiling at the same time. A budget (annual appropriation bills) needs to be passed by Congress and signed by the President prior to the commence of the new fiscal year on October 1, or continuing resolutions also known as stopgap spending bills need to be passed to keep the government operating at the prior year’s fiscal spending limits. However, if Congress fails to pass the appropriation bills, a continuing resolution, or the President vetoes or does not sign the resolution; these results in a government shutdown as there are no funds allocations to operate government.

The last and longest government shutdown in American history was when Democrat Bill Clinton was President and Newt Gingrich was the Speaker of the Republican Congress in November 1995 and in December 1995 through to January 1996. The clash over the 1996 budget caused a government shutdown for six days in the first shutdown and for 21 days during the second shutdown. High partisanship affected the budget negotiation process resulting in the shutdown. According to Charles Tien writing on continuing resolutions in Robert E. Dewhirst, John David Rausch Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, “The government has shut down (partially) a total of 11 times since 1980; the fiscal year 1996 budget battle included two lengthy shutdowns. To avoid or end a government shutdown, the president or Congress must pass either the regular appropriation bill or a continuing resolution.” (149)


JIMMY CARTER

  • September 30 to October 11, 1976 (10 days)
  • September 30 to October 13, 1977 (12 days)
  • October 31 to November 9, 1977 (8 days)
  • November 30 to December 9, 1977 (8 days)
  • September 30 to October 18, 1978 (18 days
  • September 30 to October 12, 1979 (11 days)

Throughout the 1970s, various agencies have had to shutdown because of budget issues. As economic problems increased throughout the 1970s, Democratic President Jimmy Carter became the first president to face the issue of budget fights in Congress leading to the threat of government shutdowns. Lowell Barrington, Michael J. Bosia, Kathleen Bruhn Comparative Politics: Structures and Choices explain Despite being a Democratic President with a Democratic Congress “As Jimmy Carter found out during his four years as president of the United States, even having a legislature controlled by your own party is no guarantee that your policies will pass quickly, or resemble the original initiatives once they do.” (240)

The whole concept of shutting down the government if a budget, appropriation bills, or continuing resolution, started with President Jimmy Carter. Charles Tien writing on continuing resolutions in Robert E. Dewhirst, John David Rausch Encyclopedia of the United States Congress explains, “Since 1980, failure to pass a CR or an appropriations bill has led to a government shutdown. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter’s administration, in reevaluating a law passed in 1870, the Anti-deficiency Act ruled that agencies without appropriations had to close operations. The 1870 law said that “[I]t shall not lawful for any department of the government to expend in any one fiscal year any sum in excess of appropriations made by Congress for that fiscal year, or to involve the government in any contract for the future payment of money in a excess of appropriations.” The Carter administrations ruling of the 1870 Anti-deficiency Act required Agencies without appropriations to shut down immediately.”(149)

Congress used the law to shut down operations at the FTC in 1980. Tien explains; “The first agency to ever shut down for a lapse in appropriations was the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC shutdown for one day in 1980 because Congress refused to pass a full-year appropriation for the agency until it had authorizing legislation.” (149)

RONALD REAGAN

  • November 20 to November 23, 1981 (2 days)
  • September 30 to October 2, 1982 (1 day)
  • December 17 to December 21, 1982 (3 days)
  • November 10 to November 14, 1983 (3 days)
  • September 30 to October 3, 1984 (2 days)
  • October 3 to October 5, 1984 (1 day)
  • October 16 to October 18, 1986 (1 day)
  • December 18 to December 20, 1987 (1 day)

The trend of government showdowns and shutdowns over the budget did not slow with the election of Republican President Ronald Reagan. The introduction of Keynesian supply-side economics to the Federal government, differing economic philosophies regarding spending, and an increase of partisanship between Democrats and Republicans accounted for the succession of government shutdowns throughout the 1980s.

During the Reagan administration, the government spent the most time on the brink of government closures. Steven Hayward writes in The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980-1989; “Unable to agree on a budget, Congress passed a “continuing resolution” in November to keep the government running at current levels. Reagan cast his first veto and brieftly shut down the government, in a pattern that would repeat itself much of the next six years (and which was repeated most dramatically during Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1995).” (188)

It was a battle that began from the onset of the administration and spanning the administration’s two terms. Reagan and David Stockman worked to implement and impose his economic policies on Congress from the very start of his administration, causing friction.

The most remembered government shutdown in the Reagan Administration was in 1981. Tien explains that “President Ronald Reagan’s administration used the shutdown guidelines the following year when Reagan vetoed a continuing resolution that resulted in a three-day broader government shutdown.” (149) After short closures in 1981, 1984, 1985, and 1986, the government again faced similar situation in 1987 a closures were averted.

The Reagan administration in presenting and pursuing the passing of their first federal budget in 1981 looked to cut taxes, and cut spending in order to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. Reagan’s economic solution was a program entitled “America’s New Beginning”; a expansive program that would cut taxes, and spending across the board including social programs in order to reduce the swelling deficit, and infuse the lagging economic situation with life. The 1982 deficit was estimated to reach $109 billion.

Reagan in presenting his 1982 budget pleaded with the American people in a televised address; “Our immediate challenge is to hold down the deficit in the fiscal year that begins next week. A number of threats are now appearing that will drive the deficit upward if we fail to act… And without further cuts, we can’t achieve our goal of a balance budget by 1984…. I’m asking all of you who joined in this crusade to save our economy to help again, to let your representatives know that you will support them in making the hard decisions to further reduce the cost and size of government.” (187) Senator Ted Kennedy gave the Democratic response, “This is the government of the rich, by the rich for the rich.” Summing up that the Democratic Congress was not interested in cutting the deficit or spending especially when it came to social programs.

The Reagan administration looked to cut spending in the upcoming 1982 budget. However, as the economy became increasingly worse by September and the Democratic Congress inability to find areas to cut that would have limited impact to rely upon social programs, there was an impass. Reagan reduced the numbers to 13 billion and then again by late October to half that amount, 7-8 billion, without any tax raises, and finally to meet Congress halfway at 4 billion and no less.

Nov 23, 1981: The spending feud between the Republican President Reagan and the Democratic Congress led to a shutdown. The November 20 deadline for a stop gap spending bill was on a Friday, however the House-Senate Conference delayed it to the following Monday to finalize a bill. The compromise bill consisted of 4 billion in spending savings/cuts, by reducing 2 percent of government spending. The White House in reviewing the numbers claimed there would only be 2 billion in savings from the proposed cuts. When presented with the bill in the morning, Reagan refused to sign Congress’s continuing resolution.

Reporting in the New York Times stated; “President Reagan vetoed the measure as “budget-busting.” Faced with the “difficult choice” of either signing the bill or disrupting Government services, the President said, “I have chosen the latter.”  Reagan’s veto led to a shutdown in the government for the afternoon, forcing 400,000 of the 2.1 million federal employees home. Congress approved a stop gap spending bill which later the same day Reagan signed, ending the shutdown with work resuming the next morning. Only on December 12, 1981, did the Congress and and President Reagan approve an Omnibus spending bill, “setting the spending ceilings for the entire year, except in foreign aid. Thus, although the continuing resolution will be superseded by enactment of individual appropriation bills.” (NYT, 12-13-1981, pg. 80)

The one day shutdown cost the government $65 million with a total of 670,000 workers furloughed. A worker who came to work as part of the essential government workers described it as a “snow day without snow…. People come to work sit around confused worry about their car pools, then maybe get interviewed on television.” (NYT, 12-15-1985, pg. D23)

Oct. 4 1984: Congress failed to pass a stopgap money bill, when a new budget was not passed for the new fiscal year. On October 4th500,000 civil servants out of the 2.9 million civil servants where sent home from their jobs; leading to a partial shutdown. An emergency spending bill passed, which Reagan signed, and normal government operations continued the next morning. Both times the shutdowns were limited in their implications and impacts.

Nov 11, 1985: In Reagan’s second term the government again faced a shutdown. Congress could not agree over a budget agreement, and the need to extend the federal borrowing limit, beyond the limit which was 1,823 trillion, which contradicted plans to balance the budget by 1991.

Oct. 17, 1986: The Democratic Congress and the Presidency’s inability to agree on a new fiscal budget led to another half day furlough. Congress had also failed to come to an agreement and pass a spending bill. At Midday 500,000 non-essential federal employees were forced home. An emergency spending bill passed, returning employees the next day to work.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH

  • October 5 to October 9, 1990 (3 days)

All previous government shutdowns lasted only short periods of time, in 1990 that changed under Reagan’s successor and former Vice President, and then President George H.W. Bush when the government experienced its longest shutdown. In October 1990 the government was shut down a total of three days, because of Democratic Congress and the Republican President could not agree on a budget for 1991. As signs of economic problems were visible on the horizon, the battle was centered on the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act to balance the budget.

Democrats wanted to increase taxes on the nation’s richest to reduce the ballooning deficit, but in the 1988 campaign Bush had promise he would not increase any taxes across the board. Bush threatened to veto any budget that Congress presented to him that included a tax increase.
Oct. 6, 1990: President Bush made good on his veto threat; with the budget vetoed and without a continuing resolution agreed upon, the government was shut down throughout the three day Columbus Day weekend. Both the President and Congress wanted to limit the negative impact of a shutdown, and they agreed the new budget would not include any surtax or tax increases. Over the weekend President Bush then signed a continuance, and government opened on Tuesday morning.

The closure during the holiday weekend, limited the impact a three day closure would had on running the government, had it been closed for three days during the week. Bush was however, was forced to agree to tax increases, going against his main campaign pledge. The President signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 on November 5, 1990 securing a budget for the fiscal year.


BILL CLINTON

  • November 13  to November 19, 1995 (5 days)
  • December 5, 1995 to January 6, 1996 (21 days)

The 1995-1996 shutdowns were the longest amid the most heated battle over the budget between Congress and the President. President Clinton chose to veto several appropriation bills in the 1996 budget, at issue was funding amounts for social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, public health, education, and the environment, all programs Clinton pledged to maintain to the public, however, the Republicans wanted Clinton to submit a seven year plan for a balanced budget. The Republican Congress could have voted on a continuance to keep the government operating on the previous fiscal years spending limits. However, the Republican controlled Congress looked to shut down the government hoping the public would blame the Democratic President, leading to a Republican victory in the next year’s Presidential election.

Many believed Gingrich was motivated by revenge as opposed to policy when allowed the shutdown to occur, Senator Tom Delay in his memoirNo Retreat, No Surrender wrote, “He told a room full of reporters that he forced the shutdown because Clinton had rudely made him and Bob Dole sit at the back of Air Force One… (After Yizhak Rabin’s funeral, where Clinton refused to discuss the budget as well on the flight) Newt had been careless to say such a thing, and now the whole moral tone of the shutdown had been lost. What had been a noble battle for fiscal sanity began to look like the tirade of a spoiled child. The revolution, I can tell you, was never the same.” Throughout the shutdown Clinton suffered in the polls, but in the end the backlash was against the Republicans instead, whose popularity waned after the shutdowns, and in the 1996 election they actually lost 5 seats in the Congress to Democrats.

Nov 13, 1995: The first shutdown commenced at midnight on November 13, 2005, after a last minute attempt to avert the shut down; Clinton, Gingrich, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Senator Bob Dole met, but failed to reach a compromise. Clinton described the negotiations in his memoirs, My Life; “Armey replied gruffly that if I didn’t give in to them, they would shut the government down and my presidency would be over. I shot back, saying I would never allow their budget to become law, “even if I drop to 5 percent in the polls. If you want your budget, you’ll have to get someone else to sit in this chair!” Not surprisingly, we didn’t make a deal.” At the midnight, a partial shutdown led to 800,000 “nonessential employees” being sent home or told not to come into to work, with only emergency government services remained open. This represented 42 percent of the civil servants employed. The shutdown only ceased with an agreement on a temporary spending bill.

Dec 16, 1995-Jan 5, 1996: When the temporary funding measures expired, and no continuance was yet again signed, the government shut down this time for 14 days from December 16, 1995 and finally ending on January 5, 1996; the longest shutdown period in US history. Although Congress enacted resolutions to end the shutdown and another temporary spending bill was signed ending the 21 day partial government shut down, the government did not go back to fully functioning until April. Clinton agreed to submit a seven year balanced budget plan approved by the Congressional Budget Office to ensure the government would keep running after the January 26, 1996 spending extension end date. With the agreement, Clinton declared ‘The era of big government is over.’

In 1990 and in 1995, 1996, the budget battles and their subsequent shutdowns forced compromises, especially on the side of the President more than Congress. In 1990 Bush had to agree to tax increases, while in 1996, Clinton had to agree to a seven year balanced budget plan. Bush going against his campaign pledge lost his 1992 bid for re-election, Clinton however, escaped with a higher approval rating for his handling of the 1996 budget showdown, and was re-elected later that same year, while Republicans heavily shouldered the blame for the shutdowns.

BARACK OBAMA

  • April 2011

President Obama and Congress were able to avert a shutdown during the last battle in April 2011, when at issue was the 7 million difference between the Democrats proposed 33 million and the Republicans 40 million in spending cuts. The President was willing to negotiate with Congress; discussions and reasoning averted a crisis at the last moment.

  • October 1, 2013

The U.S. began shutting down the government on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 at midnight after the battling Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic controlled Senate could not agree on a continuing resolution, a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government funded for the new fiscal year. At the core of the conflict is the Senate and President Barack Obama wanting a “clean bill” without out any provisions, while the House has been insisting on some provisions to delays aspects of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the new healthcare law which is beginning to be formally implemented and ready for individuals and families to start enrolling in also on Oct. 1, 2013.

With time run out and negotiations played out by Congress, the Office of Management and Budget’s Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell formally sent out a memo late Monday evening for all government agencies to begin the first government shut down in 17 years, stating that “agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.” Approximately 800,000 federal employees will be furloughed as a result of the shutdown.

One aspect is almost certain, 2013 will be added to the list of recent government shutdowns over a budget battle, while only time will tell the long term political ramifications such a shutdown at a time when the economy is slowly recovering.

History Q & A: Did Party Members Defect from their Party’s Nominee for Speaker of the House in Past?

Democrats’ defection from Pelosi is historic

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, 1-6-11

How divided are Democrats’ right now?

With 19 Democrats withholding support from Nancy Pelosi for House speaker on Wednesday, it represented the largest defection from a party’s speaker nominee in nearly a century.

The resistance in the Democratic Party to back now-former Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the ceremonial first vote of the 112th Congress registered higher than at any point since 1913, according to data from the Congressional Research Service.

That year, which happens to be the last year for which records are available, featured 23 votes for Republicans other than that party’s speaker nominee. Of the 19 Democrats who didn’t support Pelosi on Wednesday, 18 voted for other Democrats and one voted “present.”

In no other election in between do the numbers approach those two races (with an asterisk next to 1923, when 22 votes were cast for other Republicans on the first of nine ballots; by the ninth and final ballot, though, there were only two defectors).

Back in the 1920s, though, defections were much more common. Since 1945, only seven such protest votes have been lodged — total.

Of the 18 Democrats voting for other candidates yesterday, 11 voted for Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), two voted for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and five voted for other Democrats. The seven candidates receiving votes is more than any other race on record.

The data overall is spotty, with no good numbers on which members voted for whom for House speaker. But a comparison of the House speaker vote totals and a look at the partisan breakdown of the corresponding Congresses shows that defectors have been few and far between — and in most cases, those not voting for their party’s candidate simply didn’t vote (perhaps because they weren’t present).

Looking at those numbers, this appears to be the first time in at least 35 years that the number of Democrats not supporting their speaker candidate has been in double digits.

Twice over that span, the Democratic nominee for speaker failed to get the support of at least nine members of his party’s caucus. In 1981, there were 242 Democrats in the House and 233 votes for Speaker Tip O’Neill (D). Two years later, there were 269 Democrats in the House and 260 votes for O’Neill.

But in both 1981 and 1983, about 20 members of Congress didn’t register votes for either nominee — a number that suggests some of those withholding support were not protesting O’Neill, but merely that the members weren’t there to vote. With Pelosi, all but one of the 19 who didn’t vote for her cast ballots for someone else, and the lone non-voting member, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), has been a very vocal opponent of Pelosi….READ MORE

Q & A: Did Republicans Apply an Ideological Test to Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court Nominees?

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 7-25-05

Did Republicans Apply an Ideological Test to Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court Nominees?

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an Assistant Editor at HNN.
Even before he selected Appellate Court Judge John G. Roberts for the Supreme Court President Bush argued that any person he nominated would deserve “a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate, characterized by fair treatment, a fair hearing and a fair vote.” To many Republicans that meant that the nominee’s ideology should not be put on trial. If the nominee was qualified he or she should be confirmed. After Judge Roberts was selected Republicans argued that he was possibly one of the most qualified candidates for the bench that had ever been put forward. The obvious conclusion was that he should perforce be approved by the Senate forthwith.

What has been the standard used in the past to measure nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States?

The Bork Legacy

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. After tumultuous hearings, which marked a turning point in the history of judicial nominations, Bork was turned down by the Senate. Since the founding of the Republic the Senate has rejected just a dozen nominees to the Court. But Bork’s rejection came after a highly charged battle over his ideology. This was unprecedented. The fireworks over his ideology began immediately. Within an hour of his selection, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) took to the Senate floor to denounce Judge Bork’s views on civil rights and abortion and argued, “No nominee, especially a nominee who is well known to have argued ideological positions on issues important to the American people, should be confirmed without full and candid disclosure and discussion of those positions and their importance to him.” As Leonard Gross and Norman Vieira, co-authors of Supreme Court Appointments: Judge Bork and the Politicization of Senate Confirmations, have noted, “The Bork proceedings clearly established a firm precedent for ideological inquiries and for the rejection of judicial nominees, at least in some instances, on purely ideological grounds.” One of the consequences was that presidents afterward would be tempted to nominate individuals who had not left a long paper trail of opinions. Bork had and he had been reproved and rejected.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

After Justice Byron White announced his retirement on March 19, 1993, President Bill Clinton decided to nominate Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman justice of the Supreme Court. When her nomination went to the Senate for confirmation Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) stated bluntly that the nominee’s ideology was rightly a matter of concern. But Cohen suggested during the hearings that judicial ideology should be used only to determine if the nominee’s philosophy is “so extreme that it might call into question the usual confirmation prerequisites of competency and judicial temperament.” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was not pleased with the advance praise of Ginsburg by many senators and argued that “a coronation in advance is not in the best interest of the system.”

Although Ginsburg’s confirmation seemed almost assured the Senate did consider her positions on liberal issues. When asked about her position on abortion Ginsburg was forthright, becoming the first nominee to expressly confirm that she believed in a woman’s right to abortion. Despite her frank admission, few Republicans took the position that her embrace of abortion rulings disqualified her from a seat on the Court. But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and others became exasperated when she declined to answer Senator Specter’s question about her position on the death penalty. They also expressed frustration when she declined to answer questions about gay rights. When Sen. Cohen pressed her for an answer, she responded, “Senator, you know that that is a burning question that at this very moment is going to be before the Court, based on an action that has been taken. I cannot say one word on that subject that would not violate what I said had to be my rule about no hints, no forecasts, no previews.”

Republicans did not find Ginsburg to be a controversial nominee and on Thursday, July 29, 1993, the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of her confirmation, a mere six days after the hearings concluded. The Senate then approved Ginsburg’s nomination by a vote of 96 to 3. The three dissenters were Conservative Republicans Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Don Nichols (R- Oklahoma), and Robert C. Smith (R-New Hampshire). Sen. Helms said he voted against her because of her position on abortion and the “homosexual agenda.”

Stephen Breyer

President Clinton was able to fill a second seat in the Supreme Court when Justice Harry Blackmun announced his retirement in April 1994. Clinton chose another nominee who would elicit little or no opposition when on May 12, 1993 he announced his selection of Chief Judge Stephen Breyer of the court of appeals in Boston. Breyer was a judicial moderate. As Leonard Gross and Norman Vieira observed, “Breyer was perceived as a candidate without an ideological agenda. Some of his opinions were sure to please liberals, while other opinions would give comfort to conservatives.” The New York Times reported that “in this new low-key era, don’t expect even the conservative Republicans on the panel to raise any serious objections.” (NYT, July 8, 1994) Breyer, formerly chief counsel for the judicial committee, had strong support in both parties. Republican senators like Sen. Hatch wanted Clinton to nominate Breyer. Prior to the hearings Senators Hatch and Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) both assured Breyer they would support his confirmation, an indication that Breyer was ideologically compatible to Republicans.

Although Senators Hatch and Thurmond supported Breyer; they and Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) were concerned about Breyer’s ideological position on freedom of religion, an important conservative issue. They were disconcerted his admission that he believed in a wall of separation between church and state. They felt that his position was rigid. As a judge Breyer had ruled that a school district’s officials had the right to visit a religious grade school to evaluate the quality of its teaching; Republicans deemed this a violation of religious freedom. Breyer defended his action by claiming he was more sensitive to the issue then the Supreme Court had been in similar rulings. Breyer also claimed, according to the NYT, that “the great religious wars of three centuries ago were fought over the right of people to pass on their beliefs to their children. It was therefore not surprising, he said, that controversy over the issue increased when it involved schools.” (NYT, July 14, 1994) The senators were also concerned about his position on home schooling; Breyer responded that he approached the issued without a bias one way or the other.

Breyer’s largest hurdle came when Newsday broke a story indicating that he had investments in some of Lloyd’s of London’s insurance syndicates. Senators argued that his investments would create conflicts of interest if Breyer would be presented with “Superfund” cases that could affect Lloyd’s potential liability. In the hearings Breyer promised to sell off his investments in Lloyds, and to make all of his investments public. However, as the confirmation process was winding down Newsday further exposed Breyer as having been on a three-judge panel in a pollution case where the Kayser-Roth Corporation was sued by Lloyd’s of London after being held accountable for cleaning up the site of a chemical spill. The case demonstrated that he had failed to recognize that he had a conflict of interest. (Lloyd’s was directly involved in the case, but it was uncertain if his syndicates were.)

Despite concerns about the Lloyd’s case, the eighteen member Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve Breyer’s nomination. Ten days later, on July 29, 1993, after less than six hours of debate, Breyer easily won Senate confirmation by a vote of 87 to 9. The Boston Globe reported, “Conservatives and liberals alike rose to praise his abilities as a judge, with Kennedy and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah leading the way.” (Boston Globe, July 30, 1994) The nine dissenting senators (all Republicans) included: Conrad Burns (R-Montana), Daniel R. Coates (R-Indiana), Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia), Jesse Helms, Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma), and Robert C. Smith. They indicated they were primarily concerned with Breyer’s ethics, but also objected to his support of federal funding for abortion counseling, his lack of commitment to private property rights, and his opposition to prayer in public schools and at public schools’ graduation ceremonies.

Sen. Smith told the Union Leader that he opposed Breyer because “He will move the court away from the conservative justices’ (William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas) way of the court, which most people in New Hampshire essentially support on most of the issues.” Although he still voted for him, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) “chastised Breyer for his role in promoting a federal courthouse on Boston’s waterfront that he called ‘an exercise in extravagance and arrogance.’ ” (Boston Globe, July 30, 1994)

In the end, despite their reservations, most Republican senators approved of Breyer’s nomination because, as Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) put it, they “take the view that Breyer is the best justice – ideologically speaking – they can expect President Clinton to nominate.” (Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1994)

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Q & A: How did the Present Alternative Minimum Tax come into Existence?

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 6-20-05

How did the Present Alternative Minimum Tax come into Existence?

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an Assistant Editor at HNN.

Why are more and more people having to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)? And what is it? This controversial tax was enacted as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1969 to target the rich. But because the rates were not adjusted for inflation, it now targets not only the rich but also the middle class, and there seems to be no end to the problems its causes. The New York Times reported that “by 2010, nearly 30 million taxpayers will be hit — among them, a staggering 94 percent of married filers who have children and make $75,000 to $100,000.” The Alternative Minimum Tax was designed as a parallel tax system to the federal income tax and checks it to ensure that that the people in higher tax bracket don’t evade paying any taxes through loopholes.

With the AMT most tax deductions are disallowed. In 1969 the minimum tax was a 10 percent flat rate. Over the years the AMT has evolved to also include a corporate AMT; with each tax reform effort from the Carter to Clinton Administration the AMT has increased. As of the latest revision, which was passed in 1993, there is a two tier system: 26 percent and 28 percent for individuals. Here is a look back through media reports and presidential and congressional messages about the origins of the AMT in the Johnson and Nixon Administrations and its subsequent revisions in the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton Administrations.

President Lyndon Johnson and the Origins of the AMT

The story of the AMT begins with the Vietnam War. The government needed to secure additional funds to finance the war which in 1968 and 1969 was at its peak. According to Sheldon D. Pollack in The Failure of U.S. Tax Policy: Revenue and Politics, the need for new revenues led the executive branch “to embrace a conception of ‘tax reform’ consisting in closing revenue ‘leaks’ and reversing the ‘erosion’ of the tax base concomitant to the many preferences that had crept into the tax code.” In his administration’s last month in office President Lyndon Johnson named Joseph Barr treasury secretary. Both Barr and Assistent Secretary of the Treasury Stanley S. Surrey instigated the proposals to tighten the tax loopholes that eventually led to the creation of the AMT.

Surrey made the Johnson Administration aware of the growing economic cost tax preferences were having on the nation’s finances, coining the term “tax expenditures.” Surrey spent his years as assistant secretary compiling reports about the true nature and reality of tax expenditures in the country. This work culminated in the first tax expenditure budget, which included a complete list of major loopholes in the tax code, and identified the impact they had on the government and economy.

In August 1969 as he was preparing the next year’s budget Barr warned that the country faced a taxpayers’ revolt. He explained, according to the Washington Post, that in 1967 there were a total of 155 individuals with incomes over $200,000 who did not pay any federal income taxes; twenty of them were millionaires. These individuals successfully used all tax loopholes available to legally evade paying taxes. The revelation attracted wide media attention and led to public shock. As he presented the next annual budget, published in the final weeks of his administration, President Johnson indicated that the problem needed to be addressed, but not by him:

We believe that in justice to the next Administration that will take office within the next month and will have to live with and administer any legislation passed, it is only appropriate that they have the opportunity to examine carefully and make their judgments to these matters.

Several possible solutions were discussed at the time including, according to anonymous sources with the House Ways and Means Committee run by Wilbur Mills, “the establishment of some sort of minimum tax on persons with large incomes who escape all taxation at present because their income is entirely from sources that receive preferred tax treatment, such as oil wells or municipal bonds.” (“Tax Law changes Sought by Mills,” NYT, January 1, 1969)

The Nixon Administration and the Tax Reform Act of 1969

As a result of the Surrey tax expenditures budget and Barr’s revelations the Nixon Administration inherited from its predecessor a tax reform issue that needed to be dealth with. The media gave extensive coverage to the tax debate. The Washington Post reported on February 8, 1969, in a story headlined, “Bid to Tax Untaxed Hinted by Treasury”:

The Nixon Administration hinted broadly yesterday that it will seek to make the rich–or least some of them to pay more taxes. “I think the American People are saying something and the message is getting through,” a Treasury spokesman said, claiming that congressmen are getting a large volume of mail protesting the fact that some wealthy individuals escape income taxation altogether.

In April 1969 the Nixon Administration presented its proposal for tax reform to Congress. The measure was accompanied by this message:

Reform of our Federal income tax is long overdue. Special preferences in the law permit far too many Americans to pay less than their fair share of taxes. Too many other Americans bear too much of this tax burden. . . . We must reform our tax structure to make it more equitable and efficient; we must redirect our tax policy to make it more conducive to stable economic growth and responsive to urgent social needs. Much concern has been expressed because some citizens with incomes of more than $200,000 pay no federal income taxes. These people are neither tax dodgers or tax cheats. Many of them pay no taxes because they make large donations to worthy causes donations that every taxpayer is authorized by existing law to deduct from his income in figuring his tax bill. But where we can prevent it by law, we must not permit our wealthiest citizens to be 100 percent successful at tax avoidance. Nor should the Government limit its tax reform only to apply to these relatively few extreme cases.(NYT, April 22, 1969)

After Nixon made his proposal, the House Ways and Means Committee took up the legislation. According to Rowland Evans Jr. and Robert D. Novak (Nixon in the White House: The Frustration of Power), Chairman Wilbur Mills “did not conceive of tax reform as a device to increase revenue. His idea was that by ending special tax advantages, tax rates for run-of-the-mill taxpayers could be lowered.”

In late April the committee began holding hearings on the Nixon proposals for tax reform. According to the NYT, the first week of hearings focused on “the so-called minimum tax”:

The levy aims to foil wealthy people who arrange their affairs to escape taxation under the present law and everyone seems to think that’s a good idea. A formula devised by Prof. Stanley S. Surrey, tax counsel to the Treasury, “would have the effect of placing a 50 percent ceiling on the amount of an individual’s income that could enjoy tax-exempt status,” according to the 291 page reform study prepared for President Johnson and left by him as a farewell gift to the incoming administration. (NYT, April 28, 1969)

The final legislation increased revenues and closed loopholes and tax prefernces.

1978 Reforms

The Alternative Minimum Tax that Americans are now grappling with was introduced in its present format as a result of tax reform in 1978. While the Congress rejected many of President Jimmy Carter’s proposals, Congress did choose to approve tax cuts geared toward upper-income groups; these included cuts in capital gains and corporate taxes. The final legislation, the Revenue Act of 1978, featured $18.7 billion in tax cuts. The bill formally transformed the minimum tax devised in 1969 into the “Alternative Minimum Tax” and increased the percentage in taxes that individuals would be required to pay. Media reports indicated that the reductions in capital gains taxes would be offset by increases in the AMT. (Washington Post, August 3, 1978)

Ronald Reagan and the 1982 Tax Reform

In 1982 tax reform was again an issue as was the challenge of reducing an exploding budget deficit caused by the dramatic tax cuts of 1981 and increased spending for the military. Congress rejected the Reagan administration’s belief in supply side economics. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Bob Dole, a fiscal conservative, did not believe that reducing taxes could lead to increased revenue. Sen. Dole therefore taxes and tariffs by $105 billion over the next two years. President Reagan supported just $31.7 billion in tax increases for the same period. On the Senate floor Dole candidly defended tax hikes:

The roots of this evening’s debate actually go back to February [1982], when the President [ Reagan] released a budget calling for deficits in excess of $700 billion over the next 3 years. Those deficits were unacceptable by any criteria. Do we want to reduce the deficit, do we want to continue the downward trend of interest rates, or do we want to signal to the financial markets and the people in our States that we really do not care, that we really have not quite enough courage to take this step, because some tax might affect someone in our constituency?

The media seized on Dole’s statement. A headline in the Washington Post declared: “Republicans Eye Bigger Tax Increase” (March 11, 1982) The story noted:

Dole listed a number of tax changes which he has already publicly endorsed or signaled support for. These include an Alternative Minimum Tax for corporations and individuals, raising $4 billion in 1983 and $8 billion in 1984. Wealthy individuals who pay little or no tax would be required to add back all deductions, take a $50,000 exemption, and then pay a tax set at 15 percent of the remaining income.

The tax reform efforts resulted in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, which included revenue enhancement methods including the creation of a minimum corporate tax.

Deficit Reduction Act of 1984

Despite the tax increases of 1982, the deficit continued to grow and again became a hot issue when the 1984 budget was being drafted. Once again Dole took the lead in proposing higher taxes. But in November 1983 the Senate approved a tax bill that fell short of the fresh taxes that Sen. Dole had originally called for. But in March 1984 the House Ways and Means Committee approved $49.3 billion in tax increases, which were to go into effect gradually over four years. The main elements of the committee’s proposals were later signed by President Reagan. The bill was an effort by both chambers of Congress to reduce the federal budget deficit. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan also made a proposal to increase the Alternative Minimum Tax and raise $1.2 billion in revenues. His proposal, according to the NYT account publ;ished on March 2, 1984, broadened the “deductions affected by including losses claimed by taxpayers from investments made with the aim of reducing taxes.”

The resulting Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 included significant income tax provisions.

The 1986 Tax Reform Act

In 1986 Congress approved a major reform of the tax code proposed by President Reagan, Sen. Bill Bradley and others. Once again the Alternative Minimum Tax was included in the final tax package. In addition, Congress approved a Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax.

Years later investigative journalists Barlett and Steele, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 1991), revealed that the AMT of 1986 actually reduced taxes on the wealthy:

When Congress enacted the Tax Reform Act of 1986, lawmakers hailed its alternative minimum tax provision as the most stringent ever, guaranteeing that nobody would ever escape paying at least some tax . . . [But] passage of “the toughest minimum tax ever’ resulted in a 75 per cent drop in the number of people who paid the tax, and a 90 per cent drop in the amount they paid. On average, a millionaire in 1986 paid an alternative minimum tax of $116,395. Three years later, a millionaire paid $54,758. That amounted to a 53 per cent tax cut.

1990 Tax Increase

After years of ever steeper budget deficits and a prediction by OMB director Richard Darman that the next budget deficit could reach $231 billion, Congress and the first President Bush in 1991 decided finally to stem the tide of red ink. The bill finally agreed to both Copngress and President Bush provided for $40 billion in new taxes in 1991 and $500 billion in new taxes over five years. The AMT was raised were 21 percent to 23 percent.

Revenue Reconciliation Act of 1993

The final major tax legislation of the twentieth century was approved in 1993 at the behest of the Clinton administration. On August 5, 1993 the House passed the bill by 218 to 216. The next day on August 6, after weeks of compromise, the Senate approveed the bill on a strict party-line vote. Not one Republican voted for the measure. It passed when Vice President Al Gore in his position as President of the Senate cast the deciding vote.

The measaure included yet another increase in the AMT, this time to 26 percent for people who earned between $100,000 and $175,000, and 28 percent for those who earned above $175,000.

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