The 95th United States Congress and Carter had a famously rough relationship. Carter was critical of Democratically-controlled Congress from the start of his campaign, and continued to be so during his presidency despite the political ramifications. He was opposed to the trading of political favors, and in turn Congress resisted passing many of his bills. Despite a strong start with the Carter administration passing an ethics and energy passage in 1977, relations began to d deteriorate. The men in Carter’s inner circle also had bad relations with the members of Congress; Hamilton Jordan and Frank Moore famously clashed with the Democrats of Congress, Tip O’Neill in particular. Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House. He disliked Carter and the way he appointed fellow Georgian to high-profile political positions in federal offices and the White House staff. O’Neill felt that members of the Georgian Mafia were arrogant and narrow-minded. O’Neill dislike Carter on a personal level to; the born-again Christian stopped serving alcohol in the White House, and instead of the customary eggs and sausage, served sugar cookies to the Democratic leaders when they came for breakfast.
Another subject on which the President and Speaker clashed was that of pork barrel spending. O’Neill wanted to employ a system in which loyal Democrats with pork barrel projects. Pork barrel spending is also known as “government funding designed to benefit a special interest rather than benefit the public interest.” Carter, however, was against this practice, as he wanted to reduce government spending. Carter struck any project he felt was pork barrel spending, causing an outcry amongst Congressmen. Carter’s reasoning behind this was that he felt “that none of these projects were worthy and that none of them ought to be completed or continued,” and that it was “a gross waste” of the taxpayers’ money.
On a broader level, the difficult relations with Congress made it very hard for Carter to pass any legislation – Carter entered office determined to keep his campaign promises, without the cooperation of Congress he was hardly able to accomplish anything. Carter started off on the wrong foot with Congress when he vetoed several of its pet projects. President Carter observed “… the issue on the water projects was the one that caused the deepest breach between me and the Democratic leadership.” Carter’s position was clearly stated from the beginning of his campaign. He once said “As a governor and during my campaign, I had repeatedly emphasized the need to eliminate waste and pork-barrel projects. Some of the people had heard and understood what I was saying. The members of the Congress had not.”
Carter’s interaction with Congress focused on preserving his morals, not on passing beneficial policies. He was more of a missionary than a legislator. His personal battles did nothing for the rest of America, and maybe if he had compromised a few principles and learned to play the political game a little more adeptly, he would have done the country much more good. Perhaps it would have been more practical if Carter had taken a page out of Lyndon B Johnson’s book, and been willing to use both a stick and a carrot when necessary in order to get his ambitious bills passed.