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What would Norris do during today's debt ceiling crisis?
With the celebration of Sen. George Norris' 150th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the Rural Electrification Administration he midwifed, one can only guess how George W. Norris might handle the current conflict in Congress over raising the debt limit.
Norris wasn't known for extravagant spending, although he did pay for his own railroad tickets when he could have charged them to the taxpayers.
He was known as a champion of the little guy, however, joining U.S. Rep. (Later New York Mayor) Fiorello H. La Guardia in passing the Norris-La Guardia Act, which banned employers from requiring workers to sign contracts that they would not join a labor union, and barred federal courts from issuing injunctions against nonviolent labor disputes.
Congress people of every stripe are facing a dilemma; raise the debt limit and risk being called a spend thrift, or stand your ground and risk watching the government shut down and perhaps even a default on federal debt and all of its ramifications.
Norris wasn't averse to such risks; one of his first acts as a young congressman was to engineer a resolution to strip "Boss" Cannon of much of his power as Speaker of the House and removing him from the Rules Committee.
He also bucked President Wilson's desire -- echoed by popular sentiment -- to arm American merchant ships, a move he saw as a back-entrance to the war in Europe. Norris and Sen. Robert La Follette filibustered the bill and kept it from passing, but Wilson claimed executive power to arm ships without congressional approval.
Sound familiar? Opponents of President Obama's intervention in Libya are making some of the same arguments as related to the War Powers act.
Norris caught plenty of heat over his position, and even wrote the governor, offering to resign, but after Norris traveled throughout the state to explain his position, the governor decided not to ask for a special election.
But the "gentle knight of progressive ideals" still didn't cave to partisan politics, backing Al Smith, a Catholic Democrat who was anti-Prohibition, rather than Republican candidate Herbert Hoover, whom he felt was owned by monopolistic power companies.
Norris, of course, left his mark in the form of the non-partisan Nebraska Unicameral, Nebraska public power and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
One of the speakers at Saturday's Norris-REA banquet noted that it took the shock of the Great Depression to see many of the ideas that Norris championed become reality; and then only after decades of work.
Only time will tell whether the Great Recession we are currently experiencing will result in meaningful change in the long run.