Why Couldn’t Congress Pass a Bill Like the Civil Rights Act Today?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

July 4 has passed us by with a bang or two, but another major American landmark passed with a fair amount of less noise. July 2 marks the anniversary of the the Civil Rights Act, and this year, looking back on its passage through Congress in 1964, it looks particularly miraculous. The Civil Rights Act took an incredible degree of cooperation — of give and take — between parties. Of course, if the Civil Rights Act were to face Congress today, it’s unlikely that it would be seen as controversial, so realistically it would pass without question. But if it were brought before a divided Congress today — and remained as controversial as it was fifty years ago — it’s unlikely the current set up would manage to pass such major and difficult legislation. Our party split simply doesn’t have the bipartisan capabilities to pass a controversial bill.

Todd Perdum, author of An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, spoke in an interview with PBS News on his book and the efforts behind the Act’s passage. He listed Congress member Bill McCulloch (R-Ohio) as a major face behind the Act, calling him a “rock-ribbed conservative” who was “just as conservative as John Boehner in most ways.”

Yet McCulloch had the support of his party — even with a mere 2.7 percent of his population who were black — and managed to strike a bargain with Kennedy and the Democratic party. “He said, if you promise not to water this down in the Senate … and if you promise to give us Republicans equal credit going into next year’s presidential election, I will bring along my Republican Caucus,” explained Perdum, eventually comparing reactions in 1964 to reactions to Obamacare. “Could you imagine that happening today, on party removing the single most contentious domestic issue, as a political issue, and working cooperatively?”

Well, could you, even pushing Obamacare aside for the moment? “I’ll make clear we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill,” said House Speaker John Boehner to CNN, referring to immigration reform.

“Middle-class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me,” said President Barack Obama — and as we all know by now, that’s precisely what Boehner plans to do, saying Obama has violated the balance of power with his executive orders.