Model Cities, Senator Muskie and Creative Federalism
The odd couple partnership of Senator Edmund S. Muskie and President Lyndon B. Johnson in the passage of the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act of 1966 is a story with several subplots and insights into their different approaches to the art of democratic governance. For Senator Muskie, the president’s proposal was based on valid concepts, but he doubted the legislation’s viability in the Senate and he had serious reservations about its timeliness and capacity to address the problems the legislation was supposed to solve. The President was determined that the ambitious initiative, developed by a secret task force he had commissioned, should be enacted as designed, as part of the Great Society program and a response to the threats of disruption and conflict in the nation’s largest cities. For Johnson, there was the challenge of increasingly restive Congress, chafing under the increasing costs of Great Society initiatives. For Muskie there was the challenge of a legislative assignment quite different from the pattern he had established in his work as chairman of the Public Works Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution. There were also matters of Muskie’s and Johnson’s political style difference and a less than happy start to their relationship. When Ed Muskie was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, he paid a courtesy call on the majority leader, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. As Senator Muskie wrote in his memoir Journeys, Johnson talked to him “for a while about the difficulty of adjusting as a senator, especially as a senator who had been a governor. He said that the tough times were when you had to vote, when you went on record. ‘Many times, Ed.’ He said, you won’t know how you’re going to vote until the clerk who’s calling the roll gets to the M’s.’” After that advice, the majority leader went on to talk about pending rule changes. Johnson was pushing a change that would enable senators to end a filibuster with a two-thirds vote, something most of his southern colleagues could accept. Muskie was much more attracted to a three-fifths vote to end debate, but said nothing.