The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
WASHINGTON has an acute case of political paralysis. Every action, in both Congress and the Administration, is measured against its possible effect on the election. The result is precious little action of any kind.
Nowhere is this wo apparent as on Capitol Hill. In the period before the Lincoln Day recess, the Senate completed only two matters of any significance: it passed an innocuous bill to grant home rule to the District of Columbia (a bill which has been bottled up by Southerners in the House) and it voted to admit Greece and Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Tangible progress in the House has been even less visible.
Statehood for Alaska and Hawaii is among the victims of the paralysis. Despite the pledged support of both parties, in the Senate there was very little consideration of the merits of statehood. Instead, the criterion imposed by Southern Democrats was: How would four additional Senators vote on civil rights?
Because the Republicans showed less enthusiasm for normally Democratic Alaska than for Republican Hawaii, the opposition had sufficient strength to send the Alaska bill back to committee. There were enough pledged votes to pass the Hawaii bill but not to squelch a Southern filibuster. Thus, barring a miracle, statehood will be pigeonholed again. As if to finish the job, Senator McCarran has promised another investigation of Communism in Hawaii (although the House Un-American Activities Committee cleared the Islands in 1950).
Another cause of inaction may be seen in the attitude of Senator Tom Connally, the irascible chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Old Tawm” can be one of the funniest men in Congress, and also one of the rudest — especially toward government officials.
This year his campaign for re-election in Texas promises to be the toughest fight of his career, and he finds it politic to oppose with great fanfare any further extensions of foreign aid. When Senator George Aiken and several other legislators accused him of trying to prevent the Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the St. Lawrence Seaway, “Old Tawm" replied with characteristic satire that for five months of the year the seaway “would be frozen up as hard as the mind of the Senator from Vermont.”
The real explanation of the slow start of Congress is the lack of aggressive top leadership, especially in the Senate. The majority leader, Senator Ernest W. McFarland of Arizona, is an amiable man without vigor. He gravitates toward the Southern Democrats, and this fact gives the Southern bloc effective control of the Senate. As in the last session, the actual leader of the Senate is Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, whose masterful job of presiding over the MacArthur hearings was applauded on both sides of the aisle.
“Lard" in the budget
Objections to the President‘s $85.4 billion budget have consisted, as usual, of charges of extravagance. Although Mr. Truman conspicuously omitted mention this year of several of his favorite schemes, such as health insurance, there unquestionably is “lard" in the budget.
This takes several forms. One is projects hitherto sought unsuccessfully and now camouflaged as “defense“ items. Another is agricultural subsidies, for which the President has asked more money than can be justified by current farm prices. A third is projects which would normally be desirable but which could be curtailed or deferred in a time of inflationary danger. Included in this last category are such items as rural electrification, reclamation, and rivers and harbors improvements.
Actual inflationary danger must be gauged, of course, by the cash deficit. Here there is some reason to believe that the estimate of a $14.4 billion excess of expenditures over income is exaggerated. The Treasury habitually underestimates tax collections; likewise, the Administration usually overestimates what it will spend. Hence the real cash deficit is likely to be in the neighborhood of $6 billion—serious enough, but considerably more manageable than $14.4 billion.
Probably the most vulnerable item in the budget is the $10.8 billion for foreign military and economic aid, and it is here that much of the Congressional fire will be centered. Foreign aid also is one of the most difficult items to cut intelligently. Administration leaders already are at pains to point out the close relationship between economic aid and military effectiveness, particularly in Western Europe.
Contrary to many expectations, the most vocal objections to the $51.2 billion military budget have been, not that it is too much, but that it is too little Secretary of Defense Lovett told Congress that military requests had been pared close to muscle, especially in air power. Paradoxically, cash expenditures actually will increase from $39.8 billion to $51.2 billion because of the backlog of equipment already contracted for but not yet delivered. However, new obligational authority — that is, authority to contract for equipment to be delivered m the future—will be reduced from $61.7 billion to $52.4 billion. In this sense the new military budget represents a cutback.
The practical effect of the cutback will be to defer still further the target, date for an Air Force of 143 modern wings. This will make no difference in the number of planes to be delivered within the next year. It will, however, result in a leveling off of contract placement.
Defense officials have chosen this course for two main reasons. First, they wish to keep a balance between planes on hand and planes in the design stage so as to avoid becoming loaded up with obsolescent equipment. Second, they hope to avoid a sharp peak in plane production followed by a sharp letdown and possible economic disruption. Their aim is a sort of plateau of production which would permit quick expansion.
Russian vs. American planes
What worries some legislators as well as military men is the reported high rate of Russian plane production, especially the MIG-15. Many of the satellites are now said to be equipped with MIG-15s. Experience over Korea has shown the MIG-15 to be superior to any present American fighter except the F-86. Korea, however, has not been a completely fair test. Most
of the combat losses of American planes have been due, not to the MIG, but to Communist ground fire which has become considerably more accurate. Enemy plane loss statistics thus are not comparable, for the MlGs have seldom ventured over our lines.
The predominant feeling in the Pentagon still is that the Russian air buildup is primarily defensive. The MIG is a good, fast daytime interceptor— but of relatively light armament and extremely limited range. What the advent of the new MIG does mean is that the United States might have great difficulty carrying out a strategic bombing raid on Russia in the daytime with any of its present heavy bombers. Only the alljet B-47 —which, despite its large size, is classified as a medium bomber and which is coming off production lines very slowly — is given much chance of evading the MIG-15 in combat.
How many superMcarriers?
Meanwhile a new and more refined form of armed forces rivalry is beginning to take shape in the efforts of each service to get into the atomic act. It stems from a fear that. any service without atomic weapons will lose out in appropriations. The Air Force has long had the edge; but there has been a lot of talk in the Army recently about atomic artillery shells, and now Secretary of the Navy Kimball has come forward with a plan for 10 new mammoth aircraft carriers.
Actually only two of those supercarriers have been approved by the Joint Chiefs of Stuff—the James V. Forrestal now under construction, and another requested in the new budget. The main difference between the flush-deck supercarriers and present large carriers is not over-all size, but weight. New planes are becoming much heavier; they also consume much more fuel. It is impractical to rebuild old carriers, because the strengthening of decks tends to make them top-heavy.
In spite of some opposition in the Air Force, a few of these carriers would help augment the versatility of air power. Although carriers are undeniably sinkable, they also are mobile — which a land base is not. Their main virtue would be as mobile trouble-shooters, useful not only in fringe areas such as Southeast Asia, but also to provide fuller access to the vitals of Russia in the event of war.
But it would be difficult under present aircraft planning to provide new planes for a 143-wing Air Force and a number of new supercarriers simultaneously. Which is to come first?
The priorities have not been settled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Actually there is little effort vet to treat air power as a whole rather than as three separate competing components belonging to the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.
Morris and McGrath
The rather silly attacks on President Truman’s new Republican prosecutor on corruption, Newbold Morris, have obscured the real objections to Mr. Morris’s appointment. Those objections have nothing to do with his integrity or competence. They arise, rather, from the fact that he will be responsible to Attorney General McGrath, who is head of one of the agencies Mr. Morris will be investigating — the Department of Justice.
According to intimates of Mr. Truman, few blows have wounded the President so deeply as the refusal of Federal Judge Thomas F. Murphy to undertake the investigation of corruption after he had once agreed to it. That is not the only part of Mr. Truman’s “clean-up” that has gone awry. One of the minor mysteries in the Capital is why Mr. Truman did not go through with his plan to fire Attorney General MeGrath and replace him with former Federal Judge Justin Miller. Judge Miller not only was sounded out, but actually had accepted the offer.
The most plausible explanation of the sudden shift in plans lies in a visit to the Blair House by Senator Theodore F. Green of Rhode Island. Mr. Green was the former law partner of McGrath. Reportedly one of the subjects of conversation between Senator Green and the President was the fact that when Mr. McGrath became Attorney General he sought to fire Theron Lamar Caudle but was dissuaded by the White House guard.
An Oscar for Mike
Some sort of Oscar for courageous performance ought to go to Michael V. DiSalle, who retired as director of the Office of Price Stabilization to run for the Democratic nomination for Senator from Ohio. Mr. DiSalle was a unique phenomenon in Washington — a man who managed to remain frank and forthright in a city where the bland answer is the rule. Like the crewman of the sinking ship who asked, ”Anyone want to buy a good watch?” the rotund Mr. DiSalle always had a leavening quip which set even his critics to laughing.
Mike DiSalle took over the unpopular OPS job with full knowledge that a score of previous candidates had turned it down. Not only did he stick with it, but his relations with a skeptical Congress were amazingly good. His jovial manner hid a resoluteness which he could and did invoke when necessary. His job was to administer a brake rather than a freeze on prices, and the best test of his success is the fact that during the fourteen months of his tenure prices rose only a few percentage points. He leaves for his successor, the more serious-minded Ellis Arnall, former governor of Georgia, a record that will be hard to equal.
Nowhere are the Administration’s relations with labor so had as with the railroad operating unions. For more than three years the dispute between railroad management and three big unions — the engineers, firemen, and conductors — has dragged on without settlement. In August, 1950, the Army took over nominal control of the railroads to prevent a strike, Railroad executives, commissioned as colonels, have continued to direct the actual operations. Although there have been spasmodic interruptions, there has been no broad-scale rail strike.
Rightly or wrongly, the union leaders blame their plight on the stringpulling of Presidential Assistant John R. Steelman. Bad feeling against Steelman stems from the abortive “agreement” of December, 1950, which the union memberships repudiated. This brought Presidential denunciation in a charge that the leaders were behaving like a bunch of Russians. Union men feel that Steelman double-crossed them because he wrote himself into the contract as mediator and because he knew that the agreement had to be ratified by the membership. One of the four major rail unions — the trainmen —subsequently accepted the management offer, but the other three held out.
Animosity was stirred up anew by the manner in which a Presidential emergency board was appointed to make recommendations on a threatened strike by the locomotive firemen last November. The union had objected in advance to two of tire three members of the panel. They were chosen anyhow, without consultation of the National Mediation Board. Union members saw Steelman s hand in the appointments, and the emergency board report — which closely paralleled management’s offer — confirmed their suspicions.
A principal union complaint is that while nonoperating employees have been granted the 40-hour week with no loss of pay, operating employees have obtained no such concession. The fact that the trainmen, members of the same crews, have enjoyed a wage increase, also makes for disgruntlement. Knowing that they cannot win a strike against the government, the unions are reduced to a sort of chaotic flailing of arms.
The real source of the difficulty lies in the breakdown of the Railway Labor Act. It was the unions which first ran to the White House to seek better settlements, and for a while they succeeded. The result was an almost complete flouting of the normal procedures of collective bargaining. Now the White House intervention has boomeranged. In the present situation there is reason to believe that even substantially the same recommendations as already made, coming from another source, which the unions considered impartial, would have a very different reception.
Meanwhile there is a growing feeling, even among union leaders, that some sort of limited compulsory arbitration may be necessary as a last resort in order to make the ot her parts of the Railway Labor Act work.
Mood of the capital
Washington’s mood can be described in just one word: political. The same considerations which apply in the White House and on Capitol Hill also affect most government employees, but from a different standpoint. Despite civil service status, they are worried about what might happen to their jobs under a different Administration. Hence there is intense speculation, not only on the Eisenhower and Taft campaigns, but also on the possibility that Adlai Stevenson may be the Democratic nominee and on what President Truman meant by withdrawing his name from the New Hampshire primary and then deciding to let it remain on the ballot.
Case-hardened Fair Dealers apart, there is a fairly broad conviction here that a change of party would be desirable. Such a change is justified from two standpoints — to clean out the deadwood of twenty years of oneparty rule, and to restore Republican responsibility in the two-party system.
The hitch is that many of the persons calling for a change abhor the foreign policy views of Senator Taft. Democratic politicians are trading on the distaste as their best bet in the election. Meanwhile, the fear of either a Taft nomination or another Democratic administration is coalescing independents and liberal Republicans more and more into a stop-Taft movement.