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On Disciplining the Deserters Washington There’s one thing you can say for Texas turncoats: when they sell out, they do it in stylish surroundings. Of the nine Texas Democrats who went over to the enemy and supported Reagan’s budget, five Richard White, Ralph Hall, Charles Wilson, Jack Hightower, and Charles Stenholm were partying with utility company executives at the elitest University Club when President Reagan reached them by telephone and persuaded them to desert. Despite such stylishness, Texas is left with the embarrassment of having witnessed half its House delegation the largest desertion in modern times become de facto Republicans in supporting the Administration’s budget. They were among 29 Democrats all but two from the South who deserted. Actually this is an old story. At least since the dreary days of Allan Shivers, Texas Democratic loyalists have watched their politicians betray or desert the national party and have yearned to see appropriate punishment meted out to them. Regrettably, there has seldom been much assistance from the party’s national leadership, and so far it appears that the sorry record will continue. It isn’t that the means of punishment are difficult to find. The turncoats could be thrown out of the Democratic Caucus. Since all party business voting on chairmanships, decisions on programs, etc. is conducted in the caucus, this would in effect bar them from active participation in party affairs and would leave them Democrats in name only. That is all they are anyway. They could be stripped of seniority, depriving them of their chairmanships. Nine of the deserters have ridden the Democratic Party’s coattails to chairmanships, including some important ones. Among the Texans, Cong. Sam Hall is chairman of the veterans’ pensions subcommittee. That isn’t much power. But Cong. Richard White is chairman of the armed services investigations subcommittee, which of course puts him in a swell position to receive bountiful campaign gifts from grateful defense industrialists who have some The writer has been covering Washington for the Nation on a Carey McWilliams fellowship. By Saul Shapiro how avoided being investigated. Now, the Texas turncoats on taxes include Kika de la Garza, chairman of the agriculture committee. * The turncoats could be transferred from important committees to backwater panels. The idea of a Kent Hance being left to speak for Democratic programs on the ways and means committee or a Phil Gramm being left to speak for Democratic hopes and aspirations on the budget committee is, of course, an absurdity. Charles Wilson gave up the chairmanship of the District of Columbia subcommittee to take a very low spot on the armed services committee. It would break his heart to be removed from the prestigious military panel. Loyal Democrats could well break a few hearts of that sort. At the very least the deserters could be banned from all extra-legislative party affairs. It is gallows humor that three of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and decide on whether or not loyal Democrats are to receive campaign funds. Equally silly is Wilson’s service on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which makes committee assignments, nominates committee chairmen, and in other important ways shapes the machinery of the Democratic hierarchy, Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, who appoints the members of the S&PC, clearly has very little pride, but it is inconceivable isn’t it? that he would be willing to lose face entirely by leaving . party affairs in such treacherous hands. Finally, the national Democratic leadership and loyalist members might choose to do nothing but rave and threaten and hope that by some miracle their position will improve. This, of course, would be the most dangerous course to follow. If the turncoats are not disciplined, the so-called Boll Weevil faction will be greatly strengthened, the turncoats will be tacitly conceded great power to barter their votes on every key issue and the identity of the Democratic Party, already a mishmash, will become more indecipherable. Eckhardt: Don’t Nevertheless, it is probably this last, dangerous, do-little course that the Democratic Party will follow. Here are my reasons for betting that way: Pressure from Democrats who could be considered the conscience of the party is not much in evidence. Granted, a few members like Mickey Leland and Henry Gonzalez eloquently denounced the turncoats and called for their expulsion. But those highly valued and honorable warriors are not and have never been close to the mainstream of the party. Even among liberals they are often looked upon as mavericks. More useful as a sample of the mood of Democrats would be somebody like former Cong. Bob Eckhardt. True, his defeat may have left him somewhat embittered with party affairs. Neither President Carter nor the Democratic National Committee did anything to aid him in his last campaign. His having signed on as a “consultant” with Belnap, McCarthy, Spencer, Sweeny & Harkaway, \(which, like most Washington law firms, has a number of unsavory clients, tempered his partisanship. But Eckhardt is still Eckhardt and worth listening to as a “pragmatic liberal.” What does he think about disciplining the turncoats? “They ought to have been disciplined when there was an excess of Democrats,” he says. “The leadership doesn’t have the power to discipline them now. If they do discipline them, they’ll go straight to the Republicans and run the House.” But the strength of that argument is sapped by what Eckhardt says next: “I think the Democrats have already lost control of the House. The essence of power was not really with the Democrats in the last Congress. After the 94th, the Democrats have been on the downgrade. It’s difficult to get a majority party to realize it’s a minority party when it has all the perks of majority party status.” So if the majority party is no longer the majority party, what difference does it make if the defectors defect permanently? Eckhardt does not answer that question, and he eventually seems to contradict himself on the probability of their switching parties. “They [the defectors] would rather be in the position they’re in [rather than become Repub. licans], where they can wheel and deal from the inside.” He does not waver on one point: disciplining would be unwise. “Who would THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13