One of the few concrete actions that the Nixon Administration has taken thus far, the President’s message to Congress on hunger and malnutrition in this country, provides important clues as to what sort of Administration it is, and how, at least in the beginning, it works and thinks. Nixon officials are quite justified in their claims that the proposals—$270 million more for food stamps in the fiscal year ending next June 30, growing to a full $1 billion more in the following year—represent the most comprehensive program for providing food assistance that has ever been put forward by a President. It is also true that absent those proposals, efforts by others to secure congressional approval of an extensive food program would have been near hopeless. Moreover, the action was taken against considerable opposition within the Administration to any expansion of domestic programs until inflation was diminished, and in the face of a glowering Wilbur Mills, who was letting it be known that federal spending had to be cut still further. Both of these were factors in President Johnson’s inaction on hunger.
There was another perspective, however, that was fairly forgotten in the relief and congratulations that surrounded the rescue of the food program from the near-dead for the time being—the perspective, easily lost in Washington, of the millions of people who every day are not getting enough to eat because they are too poor, with consequences that are only beginning to be understood. In those terms, it is legitimate to question both the urgency and amplitude with which the problem was finally addressed. Nixon Administration officials, with great validity, have been openly and privately critical of the Johnson Administration’s practice of “overpromising.” This is not, for the new group, simply a matter of the philosophy of governing. In program after program they have seen that the Great Society was founded upon an authorize now, pay later basis, and now the bills are coming in. Programs were to start small—after all, there were problems to be worked out—but later on there would be large amounts of money committed. More serious still is the disillusionment with government that such practices have produced.
Taking the Nixon Administration’s own working estimates, if all of the people who needed (by its own definition) to participate in the broadened food-stamp program it is suggesting actually did so, it would cost about four times as much as the Administration is promising to spend two years from now. if, as the Administration’s working documents suggested, “because of pride” or other reasons, only half of the poor, or about 11 million, availed themselves of the food stamps, it would still cost about twice as much as the Nixon Administration is proposing.
“The moment is at hand,” said the President, “to put an end to hunger in America itself for all time.”
Like most domestic issues, the issue of hunger and malnutrition had been referred to a subcommittee of the Urban Adairs Council, this one consisting of Agriculture Secretary Clifford Hardin; Health, Education, and Welfare Secretary Robert Finch; and Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans. In due course, on March 17, or nearly two months after it had taken office, the Urban Affairs Council considered the subcommittee’s proposals—the key one being for a liberalized food-stamp program costing up to $2.5 billion by four years from now. Presidential Counselor Arthur Burns, fairly consistent in his conviction that centralized federal spending and programs do not solve problems, and all along opposed to an expanded food program, raised objections. Burns and his staff were dubious about the statistics that were being tossed around about hunger and malnutrition; they were suspicious of reports such as “Hunger, U.S.A.,” published by the Citizens’ Crusade Against Poverty, as having been produced by people with a special interest. How, Burns ventured in one meeting, could there be such hunger and malnutrition in the South, where people had yards in which to grow things? Time and again, some Nixon men challenged reporters on the use of the shorthand term “hunger”; did I really know, one asked one day, just who had written “Hunger, U.S.A.”?
Finding his advisers divided, the President postponed a decision. The President has deliberately surrounded himself with an unusually large White House staff, and with liberal and conservative advisers. Such an arrangement is yeasty if a President is inclined to act (Roosevelt) ; it can be incapacitating if he is prone to indecision (Nixon). Moreover, the thinking at that point was that since the food problem was really part of a larger one, of insufficient income and the failures of the welfare program, it ought to be given further study in its broader context. While this was sound and orderly, to be sure, and a fundamental change in the welfare program could be of great significance, it was also done in the explicit knowledge that Congress was not at all likely to approve a substantial welfare reform for at least a year; more seasoned observers warned the Nixon stall that it would probably take much longer. (This is why a significant welfare reform could even be considered; there would be no charges against the budget for some time.) Those who needed more food would wait, then, while the new group tinkered with the “delivery system,” as they like to call it.
On April 1, Secretary Hardin was informed at a meeting that there would be no increase in next year’s budget, as proposed by Mr. Johnson in January and revised by Mr. Nixon in his first months in office, for the food programs (other than another $15 million for “nutrition aides”). The decision had been made at the White House that the fight against inflation had first priority, and that inflation could not be fought and the hungry fed at the same time. (“You have to understand,” said one of the President’s associates, explaining, a week before he did, why the President could not propose a food program, “that if he gives in to that, he will be under pressure to give in to all sorts of things for other Cabinet officers.”) Hardin was said to be stunned and angry; the President had made several public statements committing the Administration to a new attack on hunger and malnutrition, and the Secretary thought he had been given a commitment for a substantially increased program. Mr. Hardin was anxious for a new food program, but not so anxious that he found a way of reducing spending for other Agriculture Department programs so as to make room for one within the spending limit imposed by the White House, as he was still free to do; he was new in town, and like other Nixon Cabinet officers, anxious not to rile the appropriate congressional committees, headed by the opposition. The agriculture committees are interested in farmers, not poor people, and moreover, it was the farmers, not the poor, who voted for Nixon. (There is always a reason for not wanting to irritate the congressional committees, whether or not they are headed by the opposition party; it is simply easier than not for government officials to get along with them.)
On rereading Neustadt
Thus the food program was not so much dead as in limbo, with even those officials who were thereby disturbed having other matters which they considered to be of higher priority. “It just sort of got lost along the way,” shrugged one White House man at that point. Inquiries around the government into precisely what had happened were met with explanations that someone else— Hardin, the Urban Affairs Council staff, the relevant Budget officers— had failed to follow through, and that the new men needed to have better understanding of the hard internal politics of getting a new item into the airtight budget. “We should have reread our Neustadt” (Presidential Power), said one of the more contrite officials. “We should have understood that things don’t just happen. I think a lot of people learned a lot from this.” Burns and his staff, as a sort of wish fulfillment, put it about that the food program was dead; Secretaries Hardin and Finch continued to argue from within that there should be a program.
In the meantime, of course, Senator George McGovern and his special Senate committee on hunger and malnutrition had been holding wellpublicized hearings. Despite the characterization of them by Herb Klein, the President’s director of communications, as a “disgrace” which made “hunger a political cause,” and despite the fact that even sympathetic reporters were tired of tramping with the subcommittee in and out of poor peoples’ homes, the hearings had served to make dealing with the hunger and malnutrition problem all the more inescapable. Even Southerners, such as Herman Talmadge of Georgia and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, had come aboard. What levered the food program out of the Administration was that Finch and Hardin accepted an invitation to testify before the McGovern committee. (They did not have to, for it was an invitation, not a subpoena; it can therefore be speculated that they did so in the knowledge that this would force a decision within the Administration.) Correctly reading the mood on Capitol Hill, the two Secretaries argued that the Nixon Administration could not appear before the committee without its own food program and escape unbloodied. The decision was made at that point to go ahead with an Administration program. On the Monday in May preceding the Wednesday that they were to testily, a White House meeting ratified a decision to divert $270 million from something else in this year’s budget; then the President’s message to Congress was designed. Agriculture officials fitter explained that $270 million was all they could use because it would not be before next February—or even later—that they would be able to manage the mechanics of spending that much more money. Late the next afternoon, the message was announced at the White House.
True to the tradition of treating the budget as if it were an orderly or predictable thing, there was a good bit of discussion between the press and the Administration as to where the $270 million had come from. On the one hand, Administration officials sort of put it about that, well, most of it would come from the Pentagon budget; on the other hand, they did not want it to get around that the money for defense was open to raids. To the annoyance of the President’s stall, the food message was greeted at the press briefing largely with questions about its presumed death, and in an action redolent of the Johnson Administration, thick booklets of papers and documents were later produced to show that it had all been a straightline, orderly decision. The Nixon Administration sets great store by its reputation for orderliness, and the suggestion that this had been a lastminute, hastily devised message to Congress stung them. Moreover, whenever any President’s assistants and associates successfully urge upon him a given course of action, they are anxious that he look good. This is not just a question of Loyalty to the boss; if he does not, their ideas might not he so welcome the next time around.
The food program is by no means home free. There will be particular trouble in the House of Representatives. Moreover, first the program itself must be approved, then the money for it appropriated, year by year. As Senator Walter Mondale put it to the Administration’s witnesses: “I think one of our profound problems of the poor today is that we keep authorizing dreams and appropriating peanuts. ... I am terribly concerned that after arousing all of this interest, after exposing hunger, alter the President of the United States eloquently points out that hunger is a serious and profound problem in this country, that we will adopt a program which is under-appropriated and also in which there is not to be found, some way, a responsibility to find the hungry and to see that they are fed.” The President has ample opportunity to gain credit for himself by keeping the issue in the forefront and pushing it through the difficult congressional passages. As he put it himself in his message to Congress: “Something very like the honor of American democracy is at issue.”
Where Are They Now?
It might be of some interest to account for some of the former officials of the Johnson Administration, now that they have returned to private life from what is commonly referred to around here as the sacrifice of public service. Following are the officials, their former jobs, and current careers:
Lyndon Johnson: President; rancher, communications businessman, and writer of his memoirs, with a book advance of $1.5 million. W. Marvin Whitson: assistant to the President and later Postmaster General; president of Occidental International Corporation, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company. Donald Hornig: science adviser to the President; vice president of Eastman Kodak. Charles Zwick: director of the Bureau of the Budget; president of Southeast Bancorporation in Miami, a bank bolding company. George Christian: press secretary for the President; public relations in Austin, Texas. Dean Rusk: Secretary of State; fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, planning to write on foreign affairs. Nicholas Katzenbach: Undersecretary of State; general counsel of IBM. Henry Fowler: Secretary of the Treasury; Goldman, Sachs. Joseph Barr: Undersecretary of the Treasury and then briefly Secretary at the end of the Administration; vice president of American Security and Trust Company in Washington. Paul Ignatius: Secretary of the Navy; president of the Washington Post. Thomas Morris: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations and Logistics; Litton Industries. Alain Enthoven: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis; Litton Industries. Alan Boyd: Secretary ot Transportation; president of the Illinois Central Railroad. C. R. Smith: Secretary of Commerce; Lazard Freres, investment bankers. Harold Brown: Secretary of the Air Force; president of Cal Tech, replacing Lee DuBridge, who became science adviser to President Nixon. Robert Wood: Undersecretary of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary at the end of the Administration; chairman of the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, replacing Daniel P. Moynihan, who became President Nixon’s White House adviser on urban problems. Mike Manatos: White House congressional liaison officer; Washington representative of Procter & Gamble, replacing Bryce Harlow, who became Nixon’s White House congressional liaison officer.
The extraordinary loveliness of Washington in the late spring and early summer was not sufficient to lift the spirits of this disheartened capital. It must be added that since the politically minded populace here is largely liberal and Democratic, the “mood of the Capital” and the mood of the Nixon Administration are not necessarily the same. The Fort as affair was a depressing succession of uglinesses, and intensified the feeling that there might be on the way a series of unpleasant revelations, innuendos, or prosecutions. The revelations about Justice Fortas forced liberals here to face realities they would have preferred to avoid; the Justice Department’s handling of the matter raised serious concern over its willingness to float personally damaging information.
Whether the President actually moved the government closer to a Vietnam settlement, or rather, was being overly cautious and digging himself into Johnson’s traps, was a matter of debate. One source of the confusion was that the private briefing of the press by White House aides on the occasion of the President’s first major speech on Vietnam was considerably more flexible and optimistic than the tone of the speech itself. Some of the White House press wondered uncomfortably whether they had been leveled with or used.
Amidst the spreading tumult over the universities and the fear of repression or a new McCarthyism, the liberals seem to have lost their way and, more surprisingly, their tongues. The Nixon Administration’s review of the budget cut three times as much from domestic programs as it did from the Pentagon, and there were almost no changes reflecting a rethinking of priorities or an assault on pointless subsidies. Budget officials already warn against expecting any major changes next year either. After all, they say, everything that is in there is there because someone wants it and wants it badly—they have constituencies, you know. Except of course for the Job Corps; the closing of camps, for a saving of $100 million (if one does not count the other training programs, or welfare payments, which will substitute for the camps), was described by a Nixon aide as “a sound economic decision.”
As late as June, several agencies or important subdivisions were still without leader or without program. Numbers of able people who had chosen government service because they believed in ir were considering leaving oractually doing so. “Everything was at a standstill,” said one who did. Too many of the new men were too discouraged too soon. The social life went on mechanically, but even Betty Beale, the Washington Star’s society columnist, felt constrained to call it “the silent spring.” The considerable number of bachelors on Mr. Nixon’s extensive stall were wondering where all the swinging was that they had read about. Except for the inspired bash for Duke Ellington, the White House entertaining has been a fairly stodgy business. But there is one forthcoming affair which ought to be interesting. Miss Beale reported not long ago that Mrs. Nixon had revealed at a luncheon that in July the First Family will give a party to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Nixon’s “kitchen debate” with Nikita Khrushchev.