By Samantha Snead
On February 4, the Henry H. Fowler Public Lecture Series continued its commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution with a visit from former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Students, faculty, and members of the community gathered in Bast gym to hear her speak. President Maxey began the lecture by welcoming Hutchison to Roanoke College, as well as thanking the audience for their attendance. Then, an introduction was given by Richard Smith, Vice President and Dean of the College. After Hutchison gave her talk, audience members were invited to write down any questions they had for answering at the end of the lecture.
President Maxey offered a brief history of the Constitution, and mentioned that its 225th anniversary is being celebrated this year. To honor the document, the Henry H. Fowler Public Lecture Series has taken on the theme of “We the People”. President Maxey introduced Kay Bailey Hutchison, who, by the time she retired in 2012, was the Senate’s highest-ranking Republican woman and the fourth-highest ranking Republican Senator overall. She was also ranked one of the world’s 100 most influential women by Forbes magazine, and co-authored two bestselling books.
Hutchison began her lecture by commending the college for its commitment to diversity and personal excellence. She said that one of the most unique things about Roanoke is that many students have the opportunity to have internships and leadership positions, which offer invaluable experience for later in life. Then, she switched gears, bringing up the tension in the relationship between Congress and the President. According to Hutchison, there has always been tension between the two, but today, “the tension in the relationship is on steroids.”
She cited several reasons for the growing tension between Congress and the President, one of which is the increase in the use of executive orders and memoranda by the President. She offered statistics about the use of these tools by former presidents, and pointed out that President Obama has been using them at a higher rate than his predecessors. This, she explained, undermines the authority of Congress, since executive orders don’t require congressional approval. Though the Constitution clearly states that the President and Congress should be relatively equal in terms of power, this increase in the use of executive orders and memoranda could tip the scales in the president’s favor.
Another issue that creates tension between the President and Congress is that of war powers. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, although the War Powers Resolution of 1973 explains when this can be bypassed. Some presidents have expressed their beliefs that this act is unconstitutional, though it still remains in effect.
The major issue that Hutchison said is standing in the way of the President and Congress being able to work together is the lack of personal relationship between the two. In the past, even when Congress was controlled by the President’s opposing party, personal ties have been reasonably strong. Hutchison said that President Obama has made no real effort to get to know the people in Congress, and therefore negotiation and compromise have been difficult.
Hutchison said the key issues our country is struggling to negotiate are those of increased spending on entitlements, taxes on corporations and individuals, and immigration control. She said that even though consensus can be reached on certain aspects of these issues, some don’t want changes to be made until all aspects of an issue can be addressed. In the case of taxes, Congress and the President are in relative agreement about what an appropriate tax rate would be for corporations, yet nothing has been done because some people want to wait until agreements can be reached about tax rates for individuals. This stubbornness, according to Hutchison, means that no real progress is being made, and that “the perfect will be the enemy of the good.”
Hutchison’s lecture was relatively bipartisan, and her answers to questions from the audience were eloquent. President Maxey concluded the lecture by thanking the audience members for their attendance, and mentioned the next lecture, entitled “The First Freedom and Diplomacy”, which will take place on Feb. 9 at 7:30 in the Wortmann Ballroom.