–by Sarah Lewis
A dark cloud has been looming over the Capitol this holiday season, otherwise known as the fiscal cliff. With rising anxiety and a deadline approaching, we can take comfort in knowing that things could be worse. On December 24th, 1963, the House concluded one of the longest continuous sessions in Congressional history! These Christmas Eve proceedings began before dawn, focused on a foreign aid bill with an amendment to authorize wheat sales in the Soviet Union.
Many members were already at home enjoying the holiday when they were summoned back to the Capitol due to complex procedural practices needed to bring controversial legislation to the House floor. In an effort to boost morale, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to throw a last minute White House Christmas party! Perhaps Johnson sympathized, having been a Member of Congress from 1937 to 1949.
Despite the party, frustration was widespread. Rep. Katharine St. George of NY beseeched her fellow Congress members to record their comments into the Congressional Record, rather than extend the debate further on the House floor. In doing so, she commented that “Generations yet unborn can read them, but those of us here on Christmas Eve need not listen to them.” They eventually adjourned on December 30th, 1963.
Similar tensions are surely being echoed in Congress again this year with threats that they may be working through the holidays yet again to avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff. The last date that Congress can meet is the morning of January 3rd. We’ll just have to wait and see if another Christmas session at the Capitol is in order, and whether or not President Obama will feel inclined to throw a holiday shindig!