I occasionally bring up the following facts to remind people that they can’t make lazy comparisons between what Franklin Roosevelt accomplished and what President Obama has accomplished. The following numbers are the caucus splits during FDR’s first eight years in office. The Democratic caucus includes minor parties like Wisconsin Progressive and Minnesota Farmer-Labor. The number listed is the high-water mark for each Congress.
73rd Congress (1933-34): (Senate 60-35, House 313-113)
74th Congress (1935-36): (Senate 75-21, House 332-103)
75th Congress (1937-38): (Senate 80-16, House 347-88)
76th Congress (1939-40): (Senate 73-23, House 258-177)
In FDR’s time, there were only 48 states and 96 senators. In a one hundred member Senate, the equivalent majorities would be:
73rd: 63 senators
74th: 78 senators
75th: 83 senators
76th: 76 senators
These numbers can be very deceptive. The South was almost 100% Democratic in these years, and they were both vicious segregationists and hostile to labor. For the most part, they were even more socially conservative than today’s Republican South. So, FDR did not have a free hand to do whatever he wanted even with huge Democratic majorities and a totally discredited opposition.
Still, imagine if all the southern Senators were still Democrats, and they were willing to work with the president rather than obstruct him at every turn. Imagine if the filibuster was reserved for only civil rights bills.
Imagine if the Republicans only had seventeen members of the Senate.
For another comparison, LBJ’s 89th Congress (1965-66) had 68 Democrats and 32 Republicans.