"Congress in 1943 and 1944"


By MARION T. BENNETT, Congressman from Missouri

Broadcast over Radio Station WHN, New York, on the Congressional Record of the Air Program, January 3, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 280-282.

GOOD evening, fellow citizens. In concluding its first session the 78th Congress had a unique record, it might be appropriate to review over the "Congressional Record of the Air" the major legislation considered by your Congress in 1943. After giving you this brief review I will point out some of the major problems Congress will be called upon to face in 1944 and advance a constructive suggestion for better teamwork between the Congress and Chief Executive. There was no lack of teamwork between Congress and the President in 1943 on matters pertaining to successful prosecution of the war. During 1943 Congress complied with the President's request for atotal of some 130 billion dollars largely for war purposes. This is more money than the mind of mere man can imagine and is more than our Federal government has spent for all purposes in all of its long history. But that's the cost of making global war for one year. To meet the cost of waging all out global war and to promote its successful conclusion, most Democrats and Republicans in Congress joined in boosting the national debt limit to 200 billion dollars, in extending the lend-lease program, in continuing the President's authority to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements, in meeting economic problems of servicemen's dependents by boosting allotment and allowances, and went on record for postwar international cooperation to maintain a just and lasting peace.

On the domestic front, however, it was a different story. For the first time in ten years Congress served notice by its actions on a score of issues that it was determined to restore to the legislative body its duties and responsibilities under the Constitution. It brought a limitation, although not a total elimination, of the policy of extending to the President blank checks of authority, power and money. On every occasion presented it moved to bring to an end the practice which had developed through governmental administration by bureaucratic directives rather than by statutory law enacted by the people's elected representatives in Congress. Perhaps the most outstanding examples of Congressional defiance of Administration's leadership were, the over-riding of the Presidential veto of the anti-war strike bill, the repeal of the $25,000 salary limitation directive of the President and defeat of consumer subsidies. These moves were made possible by the revolt in the President's own party which has a controlling majority of the members in both House and Senate.

Other typical actions by the Congress which reveal a firm intention of exercising its responsibilities as the legislative branch were:

(1) Enactment of legislation to prevent the bureaucrats from establishing grade labelling by abolishing brand names and forcing other radical changes in established manufacture and business practices.

(2) The placing of restrictions on the National Labor Relations Board, to prevent it from disturbing employer-employee agreements that have been in effect more than three months.

(3) Abolition of the National Resources Planning Board which, headed by the President's Uncle Frederick Delano, advocated socialization for America.

(4) Establishment of the requirement that policy making officials of OPA had to have practical experience in the industries they regulate.

(5) Curtailment of bureaucratic activities through restrictions on the use and reductions of funds for various government social and propaganda agencies.

(6) Abolition of N.Y.A. and (7) the Guffey Coal Act.

(8) Approval of an amendment to freeze the present Social Security payroll tax rate at one percent for a period of 60 days pending passage of the 1943 Revenue Act, and

(9) Adoption of the pay as you go principle in income tax legislation.

When the second session of the 78th Congress begins this month some of the important issues to be faced by the lawmakers will includeŚ

(1) The Revenue Act of 1943 making broad changes in the renegotiation of war contracts law.
(2) Extension of the Price Control Act, the OPA and all other stabilization legislation, including authority under which the Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization operates.
(3) Enactment of legislation providing for termination of contracts with the government and the disposal of surplus properties, facilities and supplies.
(4) The question of governmental authority to continue the Commodity Credit Corporation and expand consumer subsidy programs allegedly to combat inflation.
(5) Providing muster-out pay for members of the armed forces, rehabilitation and re-employment of veterans.
(6) Proposals for a broad extension of Social Security and old age pension benefits.
(7) Amendments to the Security and Exchange Commission law to encourage people to start and invest in new businesses, a thing which had been practically stopped by the Administration's restrictions on private enterprise even before the war.
(8) Legislation to provide appeals to the courts from decisions of executive or bureaucratic agencies.
(9) Consideration by the Senate of the House-approved anti-racketeering law making labor unions liable for prosecution under the antitrust laws for crimes, including highway robbery.
(10) Setting up of machinery to expedite the soldier-vote in 1944 elections.
(11) The question of whether or not the Federal Government will get its hands on the insurance business, especially the fire insurance business.
(12) Consideration of the Republican proposal to end waste and confusion in the food program by establishing a single food administrator.
(13) The Byrd Committee economy bills.
(14) Reduction of the Federal bureaucracy of some three million civilian employees.
(15) Legislation dealing with the complex problems of manpower and
(16) The bill for relief and rehabilitation, largely at American expense, of war-torn foreign countries.

These are only a few of the important questions which will receive congressional attention in the next busy session. Meanwhile, committees of Congress will continue investigations in some thirty different fields, many of them relating to postwar policy and planning.

My fellow citizens, if the session of Congress just ended seems fretful to you, if it seems that Congress did things that ought to have been left undone and failed to do things that needed doing, it is in no small measure due to the fact that your Congress is not adequately equipped to solve the problems emerging in a rapidly changing world. Congress is isolated from the main currents of government action in the Executive Department and its waste motion is perennial and firmly embedded in the formalism of its outworn conventional rules. It has become increasingly evident during the war that ways must be found to streamline Congressional procedure to fit modern demands. One hopeful sign is the attitude of a rather large group of younger members of the House who recognize the defects of Congressional procedures and want to do something constructive about it.

Representative Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee, has revived a resolution, which if adopted, could compel the President, his Cabinet and heads of independent executive agencies to appear before the House of Representatives at regular intervals for questioning from the floor. Our very first President. George Washington, and the members of his cabinet, were called before Congress several times to explain their doings. But, after one particularly loud hearing Washington slammed on his hat, walked out and said he'd not come hack except for the annual report to Congress the Constitution requires of the President.

In 1864 a Committee of the House recommended that the custom be revived but Congress adopted no legislation requiring it. President Taft recommended it as did President Wilson, President Garfield, and a host of students of government. You will recall that in England the Prime Minister and his Cabinet must answer to the people's representatives on their activities. This is because they themselves are members of Parliament'. It would not be necessary to give our Executive Department officials a vote in Congress to require them to answer pertinent questions. At present they are often too independent to answer questions, except when they want more appropriations, and the President's annual message on the State of the Union is more of a political stump speech directed to the country than to the Congress.

Congress has a great appetite for detailed information. In the last or 77th Congress, there were 217 resolutions filed for special investigations, 37 requests for specific information from the Departments, and the present Congress has continued 16 special investigating committees. If the Kefauver plan could be adopted it would do much to help eliminate these numerous expensive special committees and tend to save the time of busy government administrators. In one recent month an important administrative officer from the Executive Department appeared seven times before House Committees and gave substantially the same information to each one. One trouble with the existing system is that evidence given by Executive Department officials is generally heard only by the Committee studying the problem. Its reports and hearings are not printed for weeks

or months and seldom given to other members of Congress until the day the bill on the subject comes up for a vote on the floor of Congress. These volumes run into thousands of pages and are seldom read thoroughly just because of lack of time. They do not need to be done away with. Congress should not sit continually as one great committee asking questions. It could not. But, the Kefauver plan does seem to offer a fine chance to keep the Congress posted on subjects of the moment in economical fashion.

Government in a representative democracy such as ours should be allowed to experiment. While the plan I have referred to is no panacea for all the ills of Congress there is good reason to believe that the reforms would not stop here but would move into the field of other badly needed changes. Congress, like many another of our political institutions, is in a transitional period. It must be adapted to an age of technology. It must meet the challenge of Presidential leadership by the creation of a responsible, responsive leadership of its own. This plan would seem a modest but hopeful step in the right direction as Congress prepares to enter another important year in which its mettle will be tested by the temper of events.