The Rumsfeld Papers


About the Congressional voting record

One of the first things that struck me when I came to Congress was the variety and complexity of the legislation that was routinely voted by the House.  Social, economic and national security issues would intersect making it sometimes difficult to sort out the key points.  In other cases, procedure would dictate what might appear to be a counter-intuitive vote.  I knew I was going to have a hard time keeping track of them, so I established a system to record not only how I voted but also why I had done so on almost every individual bill.  I also noted my votes on relevant amendments.  On the rare occasions when I had to be out of Washington, D.C. when there was a vote on important legislation, I would make a note on how I would have voted if I had been able to be present.

The resulting record quickly proved valuable to me when my opponent in the 1964 election tried to use my voting record to prove I was dangerously ideological and out of touch with the voters of Illinois’ 13th District.  For example, he accused me of being a book-burner who wanted to shut down the Library of Congress.  I was able to pull out the records of the votes he was highlighting, and explain to the press that I had voted against some funding for the Library of Congress, not because I was against books or the Library, but because Congressional Democrats had tied it to a larger appropriations bill funding, among other things, an indoor garage and swimming pool for Members.  Given the difficult economic times we were in, it seemed unconscionable to me to spend money so frivolously, and that we should find another way to fund the Library of Congress independent of such waste.  Fortunately, the voters found my logic persuasive.

I put the voting record on deposit at the Library of Congress in the late seventies, and more or less forgot about it.  After I initiated the digitization of my archive in 2007 I was curious to review it to see how it had stood the test of time.  Admittedly there are some things I would like to go back and edit—notably terms that were common at the time but would not be used today, such as “negro,” as well as the inevitable typos and errors that creep into documents that are dictated fast and typed by another person not familiar with the names or details.  Even so, this rough record provides an insider snapshot of what it was like to be part of Congress in the 1960s dealing with issues that ranged from the mundane to the critical.

I have selected a representative set from the record that primarily deals with the overarching issues of Vietnam, civil rights, space and the economy.  I also included some other examples that might not appear at first to deal with a crucial topic, but which points to a larger important subject.

While these typewritten carbon copies may seem like relics in our digital age, I am surprised by how little has changed in the way our Congress functions now from the way it did half a century ago.  In a way it is reassuring to think that the institution endures.  However, just as I was concerned in the 1960s that Congressional procedure had not been significantly updated since the time of what we called the “horse and buggy” rules, it may well be time for today’s members to begin thinking anew about how to best organize Congress to deal with the challenges of the 21st century and the information age.