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A poor relationship with the Democrats in Congress inhibited Carter's ability to achieve much of his legislative agenda.
Assess the reasons for President Carter's difficult relationship with Congress and its effect on his domestic policies
Within a couple of years of his taking office, liberal Democrats claimed President Jimmy Carter was the most conservative Democratic president since Grover Cleveland; the relationship between Carter and Congress remained strained throughout his presidency.
Carter's appointee as Director of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration tried to raise health standards for corporations, but many of her reforms aroused opposition and were not enacted.
Carter presided over the energy crisis of 1973, addressing energy shortages through a combination of regulation and conservation.
Carter attempted to inspire Americans to see the energy and economic problems as related to consumerism and excessive desire in American culture—
a profound but politically unpopular strategy—through speeches and his own sacrifice of luxuries.
In July of 1979, Carter gave a speech that came to be known as his "malaise speech" about the energy crisis, attempting to address the "crisis of confidence" among the American public.
Democratic President Jimmy Carter successfully campaigned as a Washington "outsider" critical of President Gerald Ford, as well as the Democratically-controlled U.S. Congress. As president, Carter continued this theme. Despite the early promise of his rhetoric, within a couple of years of his taking office, liberal Democrats claimed Carter was the most conservative Democratic president since Grover Cleveland; ultimately, his refusal to play by the rules of Washington contributed to the Carter administration's difficult relationship with Congress.
During the first 100 days of his presidency, Carter wrote a letter to Congress proposing that several water projects be scrapped. Among the opponents of Carter's proposal was Senator Russell Long, a powerful Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. Carter's plan was overturned and a rift grew between the White House and Congress. Carter wrote that the most intense and mounting opposition to his policies came from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which he attributed to Ted Kennedy's ambition to replace him as president. Carter had problems securing the loyalty of his cabinet, firing five members in 1979 and thus enhancing perceptions that his administration was weak.
In trying to manage the relatively high unemployment rate of 7.5 percent and inflation that had risen into the double digits by 1978, Carter was only marginally effective. His tax reform measure of 1977 was weak and failed to close the grossest of loopholes. His deregulation of major industries, such as aviation and trucking, was intended to force large companies to become more competitive. Consumers benefited in some ways; for example, airlines offered cheaper fares to beat their competitors. However, some companies, like Pan American World Airways, instead went out of business. Carter also expanded various social programs, improved housing for the elderly, and took steps to improve workplace safety.
Carter wrote in 1982 that Senator Ted Kennedy's disagreements with his proposed health-care reform plan thwarted Carter's efforts to provide comprehensive health-care for citizens outside the Medicare system. Some progress was made, however, in the field of occupational health following Carter's appointment of Dr. Eula Bingham as Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Bingham drew from her experience as a physiologist working with carcinogens to raise and simplify standards, redirect the office's resources to industry groups with the worst records, and enact regulations on workers' rights to know about workplace hazards, including labeling of toxic substances. Bingham enacted many of these provisions over the opposition of not only Republicans, but also some in the Carter Administration itself. Ultimately, many of her proposed reforms were never enacted or were later rescinded.
In 1973, during the Nixon Administration, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reduced supplies of oil available to the world market, in part because of deflation of the dollars they were receiving as a result of Nixon leaving the gold standard, and in part as a reaction to America's sending of arms to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. This sparked the 1973 Oil Crisis and forced oil prices to rise sharply, spurring price inflation throughout the economy and slowing growth. The U.S. government imposed price controls on gasoline and oil following the announcement, which had the effect of causing shortages and long lines at filling stations for gasoline. The lines were quelled through the lifting of price controls on gasoline, although oil controls remained until Reagan's presidency years later. Significant government borrowing helped keep interest rates high relative to inflation.
Carter told Americans that the energy crisis was "a clear and present danger to our nation" and "the moral equivalent of war," and he drew out a plan he thought would address it. He attempted to inspire Americans to see the energy and economic problems as related to consumerism and excessive desire in American culture—a profound but politically unpopular strategy—through speeches and his own sacrifice of luxuries.
In 1977, Carter convinced the Democratic Congress to create the United States Department of Energy (DoE) with the goal of conserving energy. Carter set oil and natural gas price controls, had solar hot water panels installed on the roof of the White House, had a wood stove installed in his living quarters, ordered the General Services Administration to turn off hot water in some federal facilities, and requested that all Christmas light decorations remain dark in 1979 and 1980. Nationwide, controls were put on thermostats in government and commercial buildings to prevent people from raising temperatures over 65°F in the winter or lowering them below 78°F in the summer.
As reaction to the energy crisis and growing concerns over air pollution, Carter also signed the National Energy Act (NEA) and the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). The purpose of these watershed laws was to encourage energy conservation and the development of national energy resources, including renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy.
Jimmy Carter has been dubbed by many as the "environmentally conscious" president. On December 11, 1980, he signed into law the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances.
On December 2, 1980, he signed into law Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law provided for the creation or revision of 15 National Park Service properties, and set aside other public lands for the United States Forest Service and United States Fish and Wildlife Service. In all, the act provided for the designation of 79.53 million acres (124,281 square miles; 321,900 km²) of public lands, fully a third of which was set aside as wilderness area in Alaska.
When the energy crisis set in, Carter was planning on delivering his fifth major speech on energy; however, he felt that the American people were no longer listening. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave a nationally-televised address in which he identified what he believed to be a "crisis of confidence" among the American people. This came to be known as his "malaise" speech, although Carter himself never uses the word in the speech.