As UNEMPLOYMENT figures hovered about the five million mark, both Democrats and Republicans in Washington were feeling the pressures from back home for national action. Republicans, led by Senator Knowland, told the President they simply could not live, politically speaking, with the domestic cuts in his proposed budget.
Senator Lyndon Johnson called to the Senate floor the leaders among the Democrats in all sorts of domestic fields: education, housing, antimonopoly, banking, and other aspects of what was clearly and rapidly becoming a national economic recession. Additional funds for unemployment insurance payments shot through Congress faster than did a couple of billions additional for missiles and other military needs.
A bill carrying $434.4 million for the Labor Department’s Bureau of Unemployment Security passed both House and Senate on the same day, a rare show of legislative speed, and was signed by the President two days later, which is about as quickly as the necessary paper work could be done. Lhe ordinarily frugal Senate Appropriations Committee took the unusual step of authorizing, in advance, its chairman to bring the bill to the floor the moment it had passed the House.
This and some other supplemental appropriation measures have demonstrated the phony nature of much of the budget cutting which Congress indulged in a year ago during the so-called “battle of the budget.” More than $2 billion had to be voted for farm subsidy payments, payments required by congressional action but money for which had been cut in trimming Eisenhower’s overall budget request by some 8 per cent.
Another $294 million had to be voted for the Veterans Administration to make up the $163.7 million economy cut of a year ago and to pay for lhe $129 million worth of additional pensions Congress had then proceeded lo vote, together with other items. Public assistance grants to the states, cut last year by $79 million, this year had to be boosted by around $170 million.
Few of these new money bills, which slip through Congress without much fanfare each spring, contain much in the way of funds reflecting this year’s unemployment. Those bills will come later, some of them in appropriations for the new fiscal year beginning July 1, some, perhaps, in further supplementals asked by the White House before this fiscal year is over.
The FCC under pressure
Congress reluctantly got its teeth into an investigation of the quasi-independent regulatory agencies, now run almost exclusively with Eisenhower appointees of one party or the other.
Hardly anyone in Washington had any expectation that the probe of these agencies by the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight would get down to real pay dirt, despite the fact that Speaker Rayburn himself had fathered it. There was every reason to believe that that judgment would have been the correct one had not House Commerce Committee Chairman Oren Harris of Arkansas, sponsor of the natural gas bill and for a while the owner ($500 cash and a $4500 note) of part of a television station, mistakenly thought that a man named Bernard Schwartz would be an innocuous counsel. It turned out that Schwartz was a scrapper, although rather naive, and that he got some substantial help from a couple of newspaper reporters who suggested he turn over some of his papers to Senator Wayne Morse, the Oregon Democrat.
These two newsmen helped keep the probe alive by revealing from time to time some of these documents and the contents of a wire recording of a conversation by Schwartz’s staff members with FCC Commissioner Richard A. Mack. The commissioner, a so-called Eisenhower Democrat from Florida named by Eisenhower, could not legally be removed by the President, but discreet pressure from the White House accomplished the same thing. II Mr. Mack is to serve as a scapegoat, the question is how much deeper the investigation will delve. There are certainly other FCC rulings as suspect as the one in Miami.
The regulatory agencies, largely sprung from the New Deal reforms, have often been called the fourth branch of government, so great is their power over major segments of the American economy. The truth is that the dedicated public servants on the top rungs of these agencies, men of the caliber of the late Joseph Eastman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, are today few and far between.
The Truman Administration and now the Eisenhower Administration both loaded the agencies with defeated members of Congress and others to whom they had political obligations. It is very difficult to get men of high ability to serve at salaries which are only a fraction of those received by the principals and their lawyers who appear before the commissioners to represent the American businesses the agencies were set up to supervise.
Reciprocal trade treaties
The economic slump has added to the Administration’s difficulties in getting Congress to extend the Reciprocal Trade Act. Congressional voting in the last couple of years has shown a steady drift of Southern Democrats away from free trade principles toward protectionism, generally attributed to the movement of the textile industry to the South. A good many of the holdouts against protectionism, both North and South, arc expected to fall into line this session because of closed factories or curtailed production back home, while competitive goods continue Lo arrive from abroad.
The Administration, under the general direction of the popular and capable Deputy Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, C. Douglas Dillon, has been trying to rally support for extending the trade act without crippling amendments: Eric Johnston, the Administration’s utility man, put on a big bipartisan show to back the trade policy; the President and Secretary Dulles have spoken again and again for it; and Vice President Nixon has taken on what is considered the worst of votegetting chores in trying to convince members of Congress to support Administration policy.
How the trade act will emerge in the end may depend on the state of the domestic economy in late spring and perhaps on new evidence (or lack of it) of Soviet economic penetration in the uncommitted world. The Administration has been working hard to show the value of trade commitments to key uncommitted nations.
Harry Truman appealed to Democrats in Congress to back the Administration’s aid program. “If the Democrats,” he said, “refuse to spend at least as much for foreign economic assistance as this Administration recommends, we will never, never be able to explain it. People will forgive us for spending too much in the search for peace; they will never forgive us for refusing to spend enough.”
The East-West stalemate
The Chief Executive cannot escape from the constant pulling and hauling by friend, foe, and neutral abroad on the question of meeting once again with the Russians in a summit conference. His disposition remains ever hopeful, with a willingness to attend if there is any reasonable expectation of agreement. But the Soviet positions on all the conceivable agenda items became even more frozen as Eisenhower and Bulganin exchanged letters over the winter months.
A number of people in the Administration insist that there are points of mutual interest — all related to the desire in Moscow as well as in Washington to avoid annihilation through miscalculation — on which a new East-West conference could be sustained with profit to each side.
Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin’s February 1 letter to the President, with its thinly veiled attack on Secretary Dulles, certainly did the Russian cause no good. Yet even in his tough reply to Bulganin, the President, however belatedly, suggested that “leaders of thought and influential citizens within the Soviet Union” visit the United States to shake their “totally false conceptions” of America and how it works. Here the President was thinking of the secondand third-level leadership, such as members of the Communist Party Central Committee, the “legislative” body known as the Supreme Soviet, and the heads and ranking chiefs of the manifold Soviet industrial and governmental ministries.
A few years ago such an invitation from Washington would have been politically impossible. Today it is clearly possible, even though any Russians who do come from that group will almost certainly have to face some heckling. What good such visits would do is not easy to calculate, but to many in Washington it seems the least that can be tried when the East-West gulf is widening instead of narrowing.
Mood of the Capital
As the November elections approach, every legislative move, each speech, all public statements from candidates and potential candidates (including would-be presidential candidates for 1960) get a fine combing in Washington. T his is the season when American diplomats and American newsmen caution their opposite numbers in Washington not to believe everything they hear.
The Democrats this spring are sure of a big sweep in both House and Senate next November. But the big guessing game in the Capital is: Who will be the Democratic candidate in 1960? Most of the candidates are senators: Kennedy, Symington, Johnson, and Kefauver once again, though in the far distance. But the last senator to be elected to the presidency was Warren G. Harding. The generally accepted fact is that governors not only make better Presidents, apparently because of the administrative similarity of the two jobs, but have the advantage of escaping the roll calls the senators cannot duck for long.