The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

THE country will need time to adjust itself to the loss of President Eisenhower’s leadership. The most hopeful assumption is that the President will be able to serve out his term. Assuming this, two sets of problems are created: how the government will be run until his recovery, and which party, and which candidate, will succeed to power.

Under the Constitution a President may resign. None has. A President may, by law, delegate much authority. Eisenhower has done so. But both the Constitution and the laws offer many explicit cases in which only the occupant of the White House can act. The latest and most dramatic example is the power granted by Congress to Eisenhower alone last January to use American armed forces in the defense of Formosa and the Pescadores, and of Quemoy and Matsu as well if he judged it necessary.

Congress could pass some of these powers to a Vice President. Doubtless the lawyers can find others which may be delegated without act of Congress. But the current Congress is controlled by Democrats. They will delegate nothing, even within their constitutional powers, to Richard Nixon unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

For a period the President will have to reign rather than rule, giving his assent to decisions reached in his absence by the strong men of the Administration. They are Secretary of State Dulles, Secretary of the Treasury Humphrey, Admiral Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to a lesser degree Vice President Nixon. But every move in that direction will be vigorously policed by the Democrats. Nixon can expect to be an especial target in order to deflate his presidential ambitions.

The Kremlin waiting game

In foreign affairs, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Moscow will now play a wait-and-see game, pending the next election. Time, Moscow appears to reason, is running on her side as long as the “spirit of Geneva” is dominant. Expectations in Washington have been that it will take many Geneva Conferences to bring agreements on the substantive, as divided from the peripheral, issues.

Washington officials are agreed generally that a) the Kremlin’s current leaders junked the Stalin tough policy because it had long since passed the point of diminishing returns; b) they therefore embarked on the soft line because they hoped it would lead to a lessening of Western pressure created in response to Stalin’s belligerency; c) they feel that dividends from such a policy have only begun to flow in and that more can be collected over a long period of time; d) hence they can avoid for a long time granting what the United States wants: acts which mean withdrawal of Soviet power toward or across the Russian frontier.

Deputy Under Secretary of State Robert Murphy has publicly put the American aim in these words: “We shall hope that the Soviet leadership will not want to see a reversion to the former state of distrust and tension and that they will be willing to pay some appreciable price to avoid it.”

But this is naïve. For there is no reason to think that Moscow believes it will have to pay any appreciable price. The Russians well know that it was Moscow, not Washington, which created the era of distrust and tension, and that only Moscow’s actions can re-create it. The Moscow talk, at and since the “summit,” that the time is not ripe to unify Germany presaged the Soviet effort to exploit the détente to the fullest before determining whether to pay some appreciable price.

Only a continuation of Western military strength, only maintenance of Western unity in Europe and an increase of non-Communist unity in Asia, can bring Moscow to agreement on Germany, on security, or on arms limitation or reduction. The West must convince the Russians that the West can afford the arms race longer than can Moscow, that NATO will not fall apart, that the allies will not be consumed in bickering and distrust, that the West’s economic health will continue to increase, that even more effective measures will be taken to isolate and reduce the Communist strength in free world parliaments.

The men in Moscow doubtless have been reading with satisfaction the clippings which tell of British moves to cut the draft term, of France stripping its NATO forces to cope with North Africa, of Greek-Turkish tempers over Cyprus, of Washington talk of balancing the budget to prepare for a campaign tax cut by whittling a billion dollars or so from the Pentagon’s funds. But the Administration knows that high taxes will be inevitable over the years ahead.

It was the President who said, in an advance defense of his decision to meet the Russians, that the American people are today more mature in their understanding of our world position. Yet the party politicians — and here party lines are hardly distinguishable — tend to look no further ahead than the nearest ballot box. As a result, a good many government officials view the long détente with considerable alarm.

Folsom: new boss of HEW

A soft-spoken, abstemious Republican businessman who has taken over direction of the sprawling Department of Health, Education, and Welfare very likely is going to be a key figure in the fortunes of his party at the presidential polls next year. He is Marion B. Folsom, former chairman of the Committee for Economic Development, recently Under Secretary of the Treasury, and a man whose knowledge of the field in which be is now operating goes back to his important role in the birth of governmental social security some two decades ago.

The contrast with Oveta Culp Hobby, whose interest in the work of the Department was minimal, could not be more complete. It is the frankly stated hope of the Republicans that Folsom will find the ways and means to make the voters forget about Mrs. Hobby’s lack of foresight in the polio vaccine affair, her insistence on a health program that nobody wanted, her opposition to extension of social security, and her refusal to recognize or do anything about the nation’s appalling schoolroom and teacher problems.

For all his associations with past Democratic administrations, Folsom is not a New Dealer. He is not going to buy the CIO or ADA prescriptions. But he may very well blunt what up to his arrival in the Cabinet was a major weapon in the Democratic arsenal. In Mrs. Hobby’s adamancy, the Democrats had an argument that the Eisenhower Administration would do nothing for the masses and hence was the party of big business. But Folsom is a very different kind of person.

Three of his first moves at HEW were indicative of what to expect. He announced that “we are taking a new look at the whole health program, “ a polite bureaucratic way of saying that he was ditching the Hobby reinsurance scheme to reimburse private insurance firms. He announced that “we can’t ignore” the fact that the Democrats in the House had jammed through a social security extension measure over Mrs. Hobby’s objections. And he named as his departmental under secretary Dr. Herold C. Hunt, a former Chicago and Kansas City school superintendent. Hunt immediately declared that he “could attest to the crisis confronting education — the unfilled classrooms as far as teachers are concerned and the bulging classrooms as far as pupils are concerned.”

Folsom, who has tangled in the past with the American Medical Association, favors widespread expansion of the service type of health insurance, some form of insurance protection against catastrophic illness (perhaps, like auto insurance, on a deductible basis of $50 to $300); but he opposes putting medical protection in the social security program. His philosophy is to care for the great bulk of the need, be it old-age insurance or medical costs, and then a way can be found to handle the remaining aspects of the problem.

Who pays for the schools?

On the school crisis, Folsom will depend a great deal on Hunt. The White House Conference on Education, meeting in Washington from November 28 through December 1, may or may not play a part in creating a new Administration program for submission to Congress.

The pressure to “do something” about schools was very great during the last session of Congress and, judging by the statistics of this fall’s school enrollments, will be overwhelming at next year’s more politically sensitive session. The President did an about-face last spring and asked Congress for a $200 million grant program, but his request satisfied no one. Both House and Senate wrangled fruitlessly over the problem and nothing was enacted into law.

The religious issue — whether states should be allowed to use federal funds for parochial as well as public school construction — happily was kept in the background last time. But with the likelihood that some sort of bill will be enacted next year, the religions issue will provide an additional hurdle.

What Folsom recommends, in terms of meeting the need, may not necessarily be what the Administration sends to the Capitol. For there are two strong forces building up which will affect any proposals likely to cost as much money as an adequate school program.

One is the determination of Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey to balance the budget. With continued prosperity there is indeed a good chance of budget balancing, provided the Pentagon’s colossal share of the expenditures pie can be sliced without alarming the public in terms of nutional defense.

But the contrary influence is likely to emerge from the Republican National Committee. Whatever appeal a balanced budget may have to the voters, it is easy to figure that it is more of an abstract idea than the concrete evidence of cash on the barrelhead for hard-pressed school districts which otherwise must boost the local tax bills.

Farm prosperity as an issue

Farm prosperity and American publics have always been closely intertwined. From the Democratic rumblings and Republican alarms the past couple of months it is clear that farm prosperity will play a big part in the 1956 campaign.

Much of our thinking has been falsely based on the city dweller’s idea that there is something he calls “the farmer.” In fact, the farmers have competitive interests among themselves much as do industrialists or union members. The chicken or beef producer is affected by the price he must pay the farmer who grows his feed. Many farmers have diversified their operations. And a lot of people who get into the census figures as “farmers” are in fact only marginally employed on the land, drawing the steady core of their income from industrial or service jobs.

There is a clear need for a new look at the figures which pass for farm statistics. This is especially true when one considers that the 25 per cent of our population classed as living on farms in 1930 is fast dwindling to half that figure. And fewer farmers, working fewer hours, are constantly increasing their total output.

Wheat and cotton surplus

The farm “crisis” about which the Democrats speak springs, essentially, from the fact that wheat and cotton production has been keyed to feed not only domestic needs but vast foreign markets which in recent years have been contracting and which by every sign will further contract. It is no good to say, as one Democrat has put it, that “the American farmer seems to have become the pawn of diplomacy.” The State Department is not “giving away” American markets. Post-war recovery and farm advancement around the globe have simply undercut the high-priced American product.

Secretary Benson can say with honesty that things are not as bad as the Democrats paint them — farm real estate values went up 2 per cent in the past year; farm machinery sales are holding up; farm debts now amount to about 11 per cent of total farm assets, compared with 19 per cent in 1940; and, while total farm income is down, the decline in the number of farmers has resulted in a slight per capita increase in income since 1953.

“Diplomacy,” it is true, has thus far prevented the United States from openly dumping abroad its huge farm surpluses which overhang and depress wheat and cotton prices especially. The answer must be found in the management of our farm output, demonstrably a difficult problem given the independence which the individual farmer so greatly values.

The Republican’s case for flexible farm prices makes a great deal of sense provided there are no escape hatches. One way of preventing diversion of land barred to wheat, for example, would be to pay the farmer to let it lie fallow, since the Administration lacks the political courage to force him to do so. A federal leasing plan to do that is now under study. Just what Benson will recommend is not likely to be firmed up until Congress reconvenes.

Rigid parity no answer

The Democrats, however, have a dilemma of their own. The bulk of them have no alternative to offer beyond a return to 90 per cent rigid parity payments which brought forth the great floods of grain and fiber when they were so badly needed by the free world.

Some Democrats realize that a return to this formula is not the answer, but few have the political courage to say so. Adlai Stevenson, during the 1952 Congressional campaign, was highly critical of the GOP flexible support program but added his doubt that rigid supports were the answer. For expressing such doubts he was privately criticized by farm belt Democratic politicians.

In a political year it is too much to expect a calm search for the answer, which, by the nature of farmers and farming, cannot be simple. All that is certain is that the farm vote will be a major target of both parties and that Congress will debate it loud and long.

Mood of the Capital

The President’s illness turned the Democratic nomination into a real horse race. Stevenson at the moment is out front and on the rail, but the big city bosses will be watching Harriman.

Despite the President’s repeated warnings, Republican leaders had refused to consider that he might not run. Privately they said they could not win with anyone else. Now they are faced with a late August convention, the latest in modern times, because Eisenhower was to be the nominee. Those who dislike Nixon cannot openly assault him lest the President have a second attack, resign, and put Nixon in the White House. No Vice President who has succeeded to the Presidency has been denied nomination since Chester A. Arthur.

If President Eisenhower had been given another term in which to solidify the strength of the Republican Party and attract able young men into political life it would have been a healthy thing for our two-party system.