The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


JOE MARTIN once said that under his speakership each meeting of the House would be “opened with a prayer and closed with a probe.” A spate of investigations is promised by the 80th Congress. They will add up to an inquest into fourteen years of Democratic rule. The prospect is greeted “with shining eyes” by such debunkers as John O’Donnell of the New York Daily News.

So eager were the Republicans to start witch-hunting that immediately on the heels of victory they sought to empower the old Truman Committee — the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program — to look into our military government in Germany. Since Mead’s defeat, Kilgore of West Virginia has moved into the chairmanship, with Brewster of Maine likely to get the honor when the Republicans organize Congress.

Senator Brewster is a man of parliamentary ability with more than a touch of demagoguery. He is moved by a consuming ambition and doubtless sees an opportunity ahead of making the chairmanship a springboard to higher things. His present Republican colleagues on the Committee are Ball, Knowland, and Ferguson; two more will be added. Ferguson, who headed the Republican side of the Pearl Harbor inquiry, is as adept at probing as Brewster. Brewster, however, is the leading spirit of the German inquiry.

King Coal

Coal is the lifeblood not only of our domestic economy but of reconstruction abroad. Never before have we exported our soft coal to Europe. But with the total stoppage of British exports and the lag in coal output in the Ruhr, Europe has become dependent upon coal from America.

President Truman inherited labor problems which were left unsolved during the war by President Roosevelt. Harold Ickes once or twice was tempted to settle accounts with John L. “Do you want me to get Lewis or coal? ” he asked Roosevelt. “ Coal ” was the invariable answer of the war-harassed President. And so the miners came to think, by demonstration, that Lewis was stronger than the government.

His highhandedness infuriated Secretary Krug and President Truman. Both, it is said, wanted to see Lewis jailed. Their attitude did not help matters; and the use of the injunction rallied the miners to Lewis’s side and brought him support from organized labor generally. The public was confused by the initial tactics of limiting action to court proceedings for contempt. During the hearings the President’s silence was explicable by his feeling that he should not interfere with the judicial process. And he gained in prestige when Lewis abruptly capitulated.

What Lewis wants for his miners should be scrutinized apart from the litigious discussion. He thinks that the tonnage rate should be calculated on unwashed coal — the raw coal the miners bring to the surface — and that the miners should be paid as much for a 40-hour week as they receive for a “brutal 54-hour work week.” (The agreement with the government provides that “work performed on the sixth day is optional.” A Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that the miners worked 42 hours for an average wage of $62.37.)

New labor legislation

Lewis has lashed the country into a fury against labor. Perhaps the lashing was superfluous. If there was any mandate from the people, it was to take action on the labor crisis. How will Congress respond? The prospect is for a bill that may be extreme. The Wagner Act is due for wide revision to make the provisions apply to both employers and employees. Senator Ball already has announced his determination to introduce a bill outlawing the closed shop. Think what this would mean to the building trades.

Senator Ball’s move was heralded by anti-closed-shop amendments which were tacked on to three state constitutions at the last elections. He was one of the authors of the Ball-Burton-Hatch bill, which required regulation of closed-shop agreements, not the banning of them. It provided that in order to obtain a closed-shop agreement a union must represent 75 per cent of the workers employed in the plant, and 60 per cent of them must vote for the closed shop.

A lot of water, however, has gone under the bridge since the Ball-Burton-Hatch bill was discussed. Stiffer medicine is now the order of the day. Lewis made sure that Truman will hesitate to veto any labor bill that Congress sees fit to pass.

Compulsory arbitration of disputes in public utilities is being talked up. But the next question is: What is a public utility? All the mass production industries, stoppage of any of which has nation-wide consequences, have become public utilities. Congress may not go so far as to make compulsory arbitration apply in these industries, though an effort may be made to endow the President with power to declare any strike a national emergency. Moderates see little hope of avoiding repression.

Tax cuts and economy

Another significant task before the 80th Congress is the redemption of the Republican pledge to reduce taxes 20 per cent. Republicans take the pledge very seriously. The air is full of plans, among them Senator Taft’s. Taft is not, as so many of his fellows are, an advocate of economy at any price. Tax cuts, in his opinion, would be justified by reductions of expenditures.

He has a point. Nobody wants to imperil the national defense. But there are many non-recurring items: outlays for terminal leave, for war shipping, and for UNRRA. The dropping of these items and the reduction of wartime personnel will result in a sizeable cut in the budget.

Efficiency could be promoted by the reform of all the executive departments. Many thoughtful suggestions have been made. One, sponsored by Secretary Forrestal, is the appointment of a permanent Under Secretary or Assistant Secretary to each Cabinet member. The proposal would take a few plums away from the spoilsmen, but the benefit to new Cabinet officers would be enormous. Mr. Forrestal has confessed his own difficulty when he and Frank Knox found no high-ranking civilian official available when they came to the Navy Department. But resistance against any change is powerful. Aside from the spoilsmen, there are many people who oppose strengthening bureaucracy.

The thing to watch is the reorganization of Congress. This reform was the work of Senator La Follette, who failed of re-election, and Representative Mike Monroney, who was returned from Oklahoma. Monroney’s opponent tried to pin on him the onus of fathering a pension grab. The tactic failed to work, and no Congressman will be more welcome than Monroney. The Oklahoman is one of the most constructive figures to appear on Capitol Hill for some time.

Joe Martin has gone so far as to say reorganization would be attempted on a “trial and error” basis. Monroney will probably follow it up. In this divided government the need is for more reform, not the abandonment of it.

What is needed is a bipartisan legislative council on the model of the committees set up for the State of New York by the Ives Committee. One such committee dealt with industrial and labor conditions. It was remarkably successful in getting executive and legislative groups in New York to shape policy on labor and industrial relations without partisan bias.

Mr. Ives, the new Senator from New York, may do something to work out plans for a bipartisan approach to our national labor problems. This approach is much preferable to the more radical ideas propounded by such men as Senator Fulbright, which would deal with the “constitutional crisis” of a divided government by providing for the simultaneous election of the President and both houses of Congress, for equal terms.


The mood of the Capital is more than a little concerned over means of avoiding deadlocks in our government during the world crisis. There is no sign at present that America will desert Europe, but the will to stay in Europe can be constructive only so long as the task of rebuilding Western Europe is shouldered boldly and ambitiously.

Here the task runs into the economy campaign of a Republican Congress. Reconstruction costs money, and, although men like Vandenberg and Taft are far from obstructionist, there are many purblind members of Congress, such as Representative Knutson, enlisted in this economy campaign. The men now in the saddle, with the tacit acquiescence of the White House, may swing the country into a reaction — political and economic, international and domestic — hardly in keeping with its world responsibilities.