The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

THE second session of the 86th Congress, which opens on January 6, will have about twenty-five weeks of actual working time before it must adjourn to prepare for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions next July. Before the session ends, there will be a lot of sound and fury, well mixed with politics and presidential primaries. Just how much constructive legislation may be forthcoming is an open question.

In the final months of the old year, Washington was immersed in an argument over what to do about the drain on the American gold supply, because the outflow of dollars has created a big adverse balance of payments. The problem affected many other issues, ranging from the size of the American military establishment abroad to foreign aid. It roused fears of further protectionist moves in Congress, because this country’s help to the industrial nations of Western Europe and to Japan has been so successful that it has provided some stiff competition for American business.

Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson raised the hue and cry over the dollar drain, with some good results, in that the other industrial nations began to eliminate many of their quota and other dollar restrictions. Anderson’s alarms also produced a backfire at the State Department and elsewhere in Washington, because many feared he would win the President’s approval of cuts in military and aid spending, and of further requirements that aid money must be spent in the United States, as in the case of the Development Loan Fund.

The outcome, as far as the present session of Congress is concerned, will depend on the way the trade balance seems to be going by spring. Some people think the balance of trade will tend to right itself, that the dollar drain will slowly decrease, and, with it, the alarms expressed by Anderson. But the 116-day steel strike upset the economy considerably, and it will take a month or two in the new year to make sure that the economy is as much in forward motion as it was expected to be had there been no steel stoppage. Despite the strike, the indications are for record tax receipts this fiscal year, and probably even higher receipts in the next year, beginning July 1.

On the one hand, this kind of booming economy will make it harder to pass legislation, such as aid to depressed areas with too many obsolete industries, and to take other steps to meet the needs caused by continuing unemployment. On the other hand, rising federal income will bring new competition in Congress for each extra dollar. Since 1960 is an election year, the pressures will be great for almost any scheme to spread the benefits. Yet, as the session opens, federal aid to education once again appears to have little chance of passage.

The cost of defense

Where the budget pinches the tightest is at the Pentagon. The constant rise in the cost of military hardware, as the defense establishment moves faster and faster into the missile age, makes it impossible to maintain present manpower levels within a defense budget of $40 or $41 billion. Something has to give. This year, for the first time, the pressures are greatest on the Air Force, which faces the choice of slowing down even further in the missile field, in which it is supreme, or else taking drastic cuts in the manned aircraft sector of its vast establishment.

The result probably will be another go-round of the argument over American military strategy. There appears to be no conscious feeling that the “spirit of Camp David,” induced by Khrushchev’s talks with Eisenhower, is enough to permit any real cut in military preparations. But the atmosphere of what many take to be a rather prolonged period of peaceful coexistence does make it easier to take some risks.

America’s lag in the space race

Related to the military missile problem is the conquest of space. Although Congress created a civilian agency to run the nation’s space programs, these programs have yet to receive a top priority despite the shattering defeats administered by the Soviet moon shots. Space costs are huge; the overall program for the Saturn, a vehicle with a 1.5million-pound thrust, has been estimated at costing around $1 billion, with a completion date set at anywhere from 1961 to 1964. Saturn — still under Defense Department administration, though due to be transferred to the civilian agency this spring — has been carried on at only a moderate pace because the Pentagon found there was “no pressing military requirement” for the massive rocket.

Congress doubtless will investigate the American lag in space. But it is unlikely that either the Administration or the Congress will give the space program all the money its advocates say it needs. The money cannot be provided under present budget ceilings, and should not be until the United States decides on just what it wants to do in space. The American public may be firmly convinced that the United States should be first in space. But the Congress, like the Administration, remains unconvinced that the public wants to pay the taxes to put it there.

Every pressure for more military and space spending tends to be a counterpressure on foreign aid expenditures. The aid program probably will be cut again this year. If the balance of payments problem persists, the cut will be deep. Failure of the Administration to revamp the program and the continuing lack of vigorous leadership only add to the congressional pressures to cut down on foreign aid.

The need for a new farm program

Next to the military, space, and foreign aid parts of the budget, the most expensive item subject to congressional action is the cost of the farm program. This, of course, is a most sensitive area in any election year, and more so this year, for two reasons: city consumers and their representatives in Congress are growing tired of the multibillion-dollar subsidies which seem to lead nowhere; farm producers and farm congressmen see sliding prices ahead around election time, with major political ramifications the result. The Democrats hope to capitalize; the Republicans fear that they will.

The hard fact is that the members of the Democratic majority, big as it is in Congress, have been unable to come together on any new farm program, and even if they should, that program almost surely would run into an Eisenhower veto. It is possible this year that the Democrats will pass some sort of new farm program, that city Democrats will vote for it in expectation that it will not become law anyway, and that a presidential veto will be seized upon to make an election issue.

Meanwhile, the wheat, cotton, and corn surpluses will go on piling up. And nothing is likely to be done to make full use of these surpluses as a foreign policy weapon. Some good use is now being made of the surpluses through Public Law 480, but it is a far cry from a program which one can envisage the Soviet Union’s conducting if it were blessed with such a cornucopia.

Labor and civil rights

On the labor front, the long steel strike may very well produce some further legislation this year. The outcome will depend on just how the steel issue is finally settled in January, at the end of the Taft-Hartley injunction period. The most likely move would be some machinery to make Taft-Hartley fact-finding more useful. The fact-finders, at the least, could be ordered by law to make recommendations (which they now are forbidden to make). If the strike pressures remain well into 1960, or are increased by new strikes or strike threats of major proportions, then some form of mandatory acceptance of fact-finding recommendations is not out of the question.

The Democratic Congress is under fire in this election year, from the bulk of its labor supporters, for the Landrum-Griffin bill. As a result, a good many members would be pleased to be able to vote for some further Taft-Hartley amendments which put a bit more weight on the labor side of the labor-management scales.

Civil rights issues will occupy Congress, from mid-February on, in the Senate. The outcome is likely to be some further powers for the Civil Rights Commission in the field of protection for Negro voting. Efforts will be made to plug loopholes in the law which have been discovered by court attacks in the South. There will be discussion of the Civil Rights Commission’s proposal for temporary federal registrars in cases where the state registrars abdicate their authority.

A good many observers in Washington feel that the peak of civil rights agitation centering on public school desegregation has now been passed. Outright defiance of the Supreme Court was one thing and could not be overlooked. But token compliance and gradual desegregation, as exemplified by Virginia once its massive resistance program was abandoned, are something else again. Gradual desegregation has satisfied the conscience of many Northern and Western civil rights advocates, especially when coupled with the Civil Rights Commission’s efforts on behalf of Negro voting.

This wall be the final of the eight sessions of Congress since Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the White House. In those eight years, the American population will have increased more than 25 million. And yet these eight years have produced no great forward motion in either the foreign or the domestic field. Some of the social gains of the earlier New and Fair Deal days have been consolidated under Eisenhower. But the solutions of the new problems accumulating with a rapidly rising population have more often than not been either transferred to the states and municipalities or simply left untouched. They will be the inheritance of the next Administration.

Mood of the Capital

Just what role the primaries are going to play in the coming election is not yet clear. The primary system came into considerable disrepute after Stevenson and Kefauver exhausted themselves in 1956 and then wound up on the same ticket. Yet the primaries are the only way to get a public expression of choice before the national conventions.

Curiously, both Governor Rockefeller and Senator Kennedy face the same sort of problem. Nixon has the machine, the party functionaries, behind him. Rockefeller can win them only by demonstrating at the polls that he is stronger with the voters. To do that he must enter the primaries, take on Nixon, and beat him. Kennedy is the Democratic front runner, but many of the party professionals are against him, chiefly because he is a Catholic. A number of Catholic governors and other high party officials who themselves must run in 1960 are afraid of what they call “overloading the ticket with Catholics.” To break through this combination of politics and bigotry, Kennedy must show that he can win and win big, and the only way to do that is in the primaries.

Most of the thinking in Washington runs this way: if Kennedy cannot make it at the Los Angeles convention, the delegates will have to choose between Senator Symington and Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson’s supporters dream of a StevensonKennedy ticket, but there is a strong undercurrent in the Democratic Party against giving the former Illinois governor a third attempt at the White House. Senator Humphrey is considered to have only an outside chance; Senator Johnson is rated higher than Humphrey, but, in the end, his Texas background and his allegiance to oil, however proper, look to be insurmountable.

All the Democratic candidates can campaign on a platform of giving the nation the leadership that they feel Eisenhower has failed to give. Both Nixon and Rockefeller imply that they, too, would provide a more dynamic leadership; but, unlike the Democrats, neither can openly criticize the President.

The most hopeful sign is that the candidates of both parties seem to sense a vast uneasiness among the American people — an uneasiness at Soviet space successes, at a secondbest American military posture, at the inability or unwillingness of government to solve the many domestic problems arising from the rapid population increase. The result is that 1960 should produce a great debate on how these problems can best be met. Such a debate will help to clarify the public mind and the public will, so (hat whoever is elected will enter the While House with a clear mandate to get on with the job and to do it fast.