THE House of Representatives, with its great hall and throng of members, is in marked contrast to the Senate. Apparently the House cares very little for dignity or decorum, and sometimes there is considerable confusion on the floor. There are many days when the proceedings are proper even to extreme dullness, but on other days, when an important matter is under consideration, the House is brimful of animation. Until one becomes accustomed to its bewildering noises, its manifold and complicated rules and practices, and its peculiar kind of speech-making, frequently broken by sarcastic retorts and impertinent interjections, it is very difficult to understand much of its legislation.
A glance at the House will show members absorbed at their desks over piles of books and documents ; some are writing letters, others are reading newspapers. Groups here and there are conversing in animated tones, and before the cheerful grate fires in the corners of the hall are other groups comfortably seated, joking and laughing. Pages are running to and fro with their arms full of papers, and responding to members as they clap their hands. On the floor there may be a running fire of debate, with keen, experienced debaters shouting at the top of their voices, for it is necessary to shout to be heard half-way across this huge hall, while others are standing in readiness to join in the discussion as soon as they can catch the Speaker’s eye. Cries of ” Mr. Speaker!”
Mr. Speaker!” “Mr. Speaker!” go up from all sides. The Speaker has a difficult task. He strikes his marble table with the gavel almost incessantly to call the House to order, and occasionally is compelled to stop all business and to peremptorily command every member to take his seat or retire from the hall.
One is never at a loss for amusement while watching the House during a spirited session, and it does not take long to understand why it is that only a few men, and those the ablest and strongest, ever attain to any degree of prominence as Representatives. Even to be heard in the hall requires lungs of iron, and to stand against the free and often exceedingly insolent comments and personal remarks, the continual strife for mastery, and the shrewd political manoeuvring, a member who makes speeches and aims to be prominent must have great courage, much endurance, a ready wit, and a very practical way of meeting all difficulties. It is little wonder that many men who go into the House with the belief that they can make a reputation in national legislation are soon content to remain ” mute, inglorious ” members, ambitious only to obtain the privilege of printing their undelivered speeches in the Congressional Record, for circulation among their constituents. The House is no respecter of persons, and a man to win success in it must be made of sturdy metal.
The business yearly brought before Congress is so enormous that it has become impossible to dispose of a quarter of it. The files of the principal committees will contain thousands of bills at each session, and on the calendars of both houses there will be long lists of import-ant matters waiting consideration. Yet hardly three hundred bills will be disposed of, and all the rest must go over, greatly to the loss and injury of many persons in different sections of the country.
In the room of the House Committee on Claims hundreds of claims are always on file, some of which have been pending for years. One claim for half a million dollars is twenty years old, and at nearly every session during that time something has been done about it. It has been reported a number of times, but was not reached on the calendar, and consequently died with the session, and had to be introduced over again. There are claims for the relief of public officials, for compensation for damages, and for all sorts of things, many of them just and proper, but it is found to be impossible to dispose of any considerable number. Claimants throng the lobbies of Congress, and use all the means in their power to have their claims acted upon, but the majority have to go away unsuccessful.
As there is great necessity for personal action and influence to expedite matters before Congress to persuade the committees to re-port, and then to persuade either house to act it naturally follows that there must be considerable lobbying.” This practice is very ancient, and from the early Congresses to the present one, the lobbyist has been an important factor of legislation, and the Third House almost a recognized branch of the national legislature. The lobbyists thrive at each session, and the shrewd, worldly-wise men, and even women, who make lobbying a business, usually have all they can do in assisting the reporting and passage of bills. The methods employed are numerous and diversified, and great care is taken to pre-vent a knowledge of them coining to the public. Some lobbyists work on contingenciesthat is, they receive so much if the business they are charged with is accomplished ; while others will do nothing with-out money in advance. Great corporations that desire the passage of certain bills bearing directly and profitably upon their business ; claim-ants who have become discouraged at the failure of their own efforts to advance their claims ; the organizers of ” jobs” to take millions out of the Treasury seek the lobbyists and make terms with them for their peculiar and mysterious services. Stories are told of fortunes made by the members of the Third Rouse who have been very successful, and it is generally understood that the wily, ingenious, persistent lobbyists are pretty sure to gather a lucrative harvest.
The official reporters of the Senate and House take clown in short hand the proceedings of each day’s session, and they are printed the following morning in the official publication known as The Congressional Record. The reports are presumed to he verbatim, but they are far from that. Few, if any, of the sarcastic and impertinent re-marks made by members during the debates are ever printed, and many of the speeches undergo substantial change, passages being stricken out and new ones added on the proof-slips sent out from the Government Printing Office to members who desire to make corrections. There are also very many speeches printed in the Record which were never delivered. A congressman who wishes to gain in an easy way the reputation of having ” made a great speech in Congress,” will obtain the permission to print,” and then will have inserted in the official publication his so-called speech. This saves all the trouble of delivering it before an ungracious house, and the member’s constituents, afar off, will not be aware of the fact that the ” eloquent words ” were never uttered in the legislative hall.
Members frequently withhold their speeches from publication in the Record for a number of days in order to obtain the place of honor, the conspicuous first page. Each member of Congress is entitled to twenty-four copies of the Record daily, and can purchase as many more as he desires. After Congress has finished its annual session the publication is usually continued for a month to ” work off” all the speeches, previously crowded out, that members had received permission to print. The yearly cost of the Record is about $ 200,000.