For the first 15 months of the Carter presidency, we had accepted such business-as-usual activity from Capitol Hill and the president had signed, while holding his nose, spending legislation (including an earlier public works bill) that we had hoped would satisfy congressional appetites.
We were wrong.
It turned out that by accepting the earlier public works bill — in a deal negotiated directly between the president and House Speaker Tip O’Neill — we had inadvertently sent Congress the message that, if pushed to the edge, Carter would blink. That is never a good thing for any president, regardless of party or circumstance. Early in our second year in office, we decided enough was enough. My boss, Frank Moore, and I sent Carter a memo in which we were quite blunt about how too many in Congress were increasingly dismissive of him and his priorities.
“Congress is like the proverbial stubborn jackass,” we noted. “To get its attention you sometimes have to hit it across the forehead with a two-by-four.”