Consideration of the Congress


By GEORGE D. AIKEN, Senator from Vermont

Delivered at the Northeastern Dairy Conference, Hotel Commodore, New York, N. Y., March 14, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 440-443.

"CONSIDERATION of the Congress" is a title which should give any sneaker a very broad latitude for his talk. I wondered at first when Mr. Miller assigned me this topic if he did not mean "Consideration for the Congress". He assured me he did not.

That leaves me with a choice of talking either about the work of the Congress, which may be done or left undone, or the relationship of the Congress to our government as a whole. I think I will do a little of both.

We wouldn't have expected a few years ago that there would be today a well organized, adequately financed, and extremely noisy group in our own country devoting all their time to the discrediting of the Congress and popular government and conducting a campaign which actually seems to have as its objective nullification of the Legislative Branch of government.

We would have expected even less that the time would come when the people of the United States would be so nearly governed by regulation instead of law as they are today.

For ten years following the election of 1932, the power of the Congress, comprised of representatives of the people, steadily weakened, while the power of the Executive Department, with its policy of government by regulation steadily increased.

Congress acquiesced readily in nearly every request of the Chief Executive for more power. Only in the case of the Supreme Court battle was there any real assertion of its authority by the Congress during this decade and even then fate took a hand in giving the Executive Department its way.

Since the election of 1942, the Legislative Branch of government has again been asserting itself. Sharp differences in policy with the Executive Department have resulted and sharp conflicts between government by Executive edict and government by legislation have at times resulted in a greatly strained relationship between these two branches of government. It is a healthy sign that the people of the United States are taking a keener interest in government through their representation in the Congress.

The conflict between the Executive and Legislative Branches of government, which is best known to the dairy-men, is undoubtedly the clash which has occurred over the administration policy of spending billions of dollars for food subsidies. Not only did the Congress fail to give the Executive Department authority to embark upon this program, but time and again has expressed itself as emphatically opposed to such a program, yet general food subsidies have been put into effect and the program expanded from time to time.

The question has been asked how could the Executive Department of the government initiate a general subsidy program and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy payments when there was no legislation authorizing such action and no appropriation made for the purpose. The answer is that the Congress has been so lax during recent years in its delegation of authority to the White House that we now have thirty-two agencies of government which are not audited by the General Accounting Office, which is the agency of government responsible to the Congress and which is the agency that is required to guard against illegal expenditures.

These thirty-two agencies of government which are not audited by the General Accounting Office include many of the largest agencies of government among them the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Defense Supplies Corporation, Commodity Credit Corporation, Metal Reserves Corporation, and others.

In some instances it has been found that these Federal agencies that are exempt from being audited by the General Accounting Office have employed the same firm of accountants to audit the claims of large corporations against the government that audit the books of the corporations themselves.

We cannot expect good government. We cannot expect sound and efficient government so long as the people, through their members of Congress, permit these conditions to continue.

Congress has made a start in correcting this evil. The recent act continuing the life of the Commodity Credit Corporation does require that this agency be audited by the official agency of the Congress created for that purpose. Furthermore, legislation is now coming before the Congress which will prohibit the Executive Department from transferring funds without authority from one agency to another if suchagency has been in existence for a year and Congress does not appropriate to it. There is little doubt but what this legislation will pass and a further check will be put upon unauthorized transfers and expenditures.

However, as matters stand today, if the President decides to pay subsidies in contravention of the intent of Congress, he simply directs one of these agencies to do so using whatever money may have been appropriated to that agency for any purpose. Had Congress required that all agencies of government for which appropriations are made should be officially audited by the General Accounting Office, it would have been impossible for the Administration to have begun the payment of unauthorized subsidies because the Comptroller General could not have approved that which is not authorized by law. Clearly, the President was not within his rights in directing that money should be spent without authority and contrary to the desires of the Congress, but clearly, also, Congress itself is to blame for the situation because its slipshod and subservient actions of the last ten years made such circumvention of the law possible.

Subsidies may well be employed to meet the effects of drouth or other regional disasters and to increase production to a point which will meet the needs of the country. I am, however, opposed to the futile use of subsidies for the professed purpose of reducing living costs and preventing inflation.

With the recent increase in the milk subsidy, we will be spending at the rate of approximately one and a half billion-dollars a year for this avowed purpose. In spite of this enormous expenditure, those who need help most will find their costs reduced very little by the subsidies which are now being paid.

We have approximately twenty million people in this country who do not have an income sufficient to enable them to buy the proper quantity and kinds of food. We have millions who are still attempting to live on a few cents per day. These people do not buy meats and butter and only a very little milk. Even if they did, the few dollars a year which would accrue to them through the payment of general subsidies would not go very far toward providing them with an adequate diet. Those who are benefiting to the extent of a few dollars each per year are principally those who already have an income adequate to sustain them.

Certainly, I would use subsidies if necessary to keep people from want, but I would channel that subsidy direct to those who need it, rather than distribute billions to those who already have adequate or excess purchasing power.

Subsidies will not head off inflation. We are now spending a billion and a half dollars a year for food subsidies alone. There is bound to be a demand for more and more as time goes on and every dollar needed to pay the cost must come from created money—not from money which is borrowed from the citizens of this country, but from the money borrowed from national banks and which really does not exist at all.

I can see little difference between a government check drawn on a non-existent fund and printed money. Every dollar of money artificially created in this manner adds to the degree of inflation which we must undergo.

I further object to the use of this type of subsidy because all too frequently the small producer who needs it the most is the one who fails to get the benefits. There is little proof that either producer or consumer is benefiting from the four hundred million dollars a year spent on meat subsidies.

It is a well-known fact that the butter subsidy was a factor in the decrease in production which started last summer. Several hundred thousand small farmers who sold direct to local store or consumer were unable to get the subsidy at all because they did not produce a thousand pounds a month. I know for a fact that some of them were simply forced to quit making butter.

The milk subsidy, being paid direct to the producer, has been of more benefit to him, although I have been advised that for the country as a whole only 71% of the producers and 80% of the volume received the subsidy tor the first lew months.

Up here in the northeast where most of our producers belong to cooperatives, it is probable that this subsidy could have been handled as easily or better by simply adding the amount to the producer's milk or cream check. But, over the country as a whole, probably more producers benefit from the subsidy because of its being paid direct.

I doubt whether the political effect of a government check put in the hands of each producer just before election time will be as serious as many fear.

Although the payment of milk, butter and meat subsidies is not in accord with the intent of the Congress, yet it is likely that the payment of such subsidies will continue.

Congress and the Executive Department appear to be hopelessly deadlocked on this issue. The President cannot command a majority of the Congress, but, on the other hand, his opponents cannot muster a two-thirds vote to override a veto. That is why we are having a general food subsidy paid today.

It may be that the issue will again come to the front when the Price Control Act comes up for renewal this spring. The Office of Price Administration has made some pretty terrible mistakes. It is still making mistakes, but I believe it is the consensus of opinion that it is doing much better than it was a year or two ago.

It is generally conceded that we should have some price control and we cannot have it without an agency to administer it. Therefore, I do not believe that the Congress will assume the responsibility of eliminating price stabilization in order to eliminate subsidies even though those subsidies may have been strictly illegal when put into effect.

It appears to me that unless the President himself realizes and corrects the error of his ways, that dairymen will have to accept subsidies for a good while yet if they are to continue in business. We don't like it and we are justified in not liking it, but we are in a war, the outcome of which cannot be predicted yet. We are in a war which may last for years. We are going to require every bit of food which this country can possibly produce before we get through with this war. Only five consecutive years of good growing weather has prevented us from feeling the pinch of food shortages before now.

Since this war started, there has been no talk among American farmers of lying down on the job because they could not do it the way they think it best. We are being given some pretty poor tools to work with, but we are going to do the best we can with those tools.

Fanners generally believe they could do better under a fair price system than under a subsidy system, but it is more important even than the system itself that we may know what tools we are going to have to work with and to plan accordingly. The uncertainty of not knowing what is ahead is more disastrous to production than the knowledge that we will have poorer tools to work with. The fact that the Administration has committed a grievous error will not swerve American agriculture from its determination to do the best it can.

Government by regulation, which started its upward swing In the early thirties, has almost reached the ultimate during this war. If Americans were regulated to any greater extent than they are now, a state of vassalage would be realized. We can make no move, collectively or individually, without first getting the consent of one or more government agencies. Our personal habits, as well as our businesses, are no longer under our own control. Regulations have begot more regulations until it is now impossible to comply with one set of government rules without running the risk of violating those issued by another department.

Probably there is no person at this conference but what is liable to a prison term for violation of some administrative regulation which he hasn't even heard about yet.

If the persons now employed by industry in meeting compliance with the rules, regulations and questionnaires of government agencies could be put into productive occupation, the manpower shortage would be considerably relieved. The situation is intolerable and cannot continue after the end of hostilities, if America is to endure as a country governed by the people. What are we going to do about it? In order to determine what we will do about it, we must first consider the causes which brought about such an undesirable condition.

During the decade of the twenties, the standard of living j in America and the expenditure of money—even borrowed money—for things we did not actually need, reached an unprecedented height When the bubble of pseudo prosperity burst, we were unwilling to come down to earth. We were unwilling to give up those things which we had come to enjoy and regard as necessities. We demanded that government maintain our standard of living at a level which our own income would not permit

I don't say that the President did not welcome this opportunity to be looked upon as the benefactor of the American people, and i would not say that he did not recognize the political value of such a situation, but i do say that the people of this country, unwilling to bear adversity, thrust this opportunity upon him and are principally responsible for the situation, restraints of which they now cry out against.

All America might have known that when we look to government for our bread and butter, that we are also giving to government the right to regulate our lives.

If it is agreed that we have too much government by regulation now, then it is well to consider how much regulation is necessary to a people living under a well ordered government and how should that regulation be applied.

The less legislation and the less regulation we have beyond that which is absolutely necessary for the protection of society and the equalizing of opportunity, the better.

We must, of necessity, grant to the Executive Department the right to make such regulations and only such regulations as are necessary to carry out the purposes of the legislation which we write upon our statute books.

I would not say that the maze of rules and regulations promulgated by the various Federal agencies have been issued for the purpose of engulfing American industry and agriculture. Rather, it is the result of having too many men in office with more ideas than experience in a practical world.

I believe that the officials of our government, from the President down, would prefer to keep our government democratic, but they have become enmeshed in the intricacies of their own ideas. When I survey the confusion in our economic life today, I cannot say that I think anyone planned it that way. It is more charitable and more likely true to say that it just happened, with one mistake being covered by others until our present condition was arrived at.

My first recommendation for correcting the evils of today's government is that every man and woman take a personal interest in government, beginning with the smallest local unit, the town, the county, or the ward, whichever it may be. Let us examine carefully those candidates for office who solicit our votes and let each one be willing to offer his own services for public office if necessary to insure good government for the community. Part of our trouble is due to the unwillingness of capable men and women to serve in office. It is as much the duty of an American citizen to make sacrifices for this purpose as it is for our young men to serve in the armed services.

Choose carefully the public officials of your community for they are the foundation of good national government.

Extend the same scrutiny as far as possible to candidates for county, state and national office.

Find out where they stand on public matters. As farmers, we have a right to know where every candidate for President stands on the question of rural electrification, farm financing, transportation and farm cooperatives.

Ask each candidate for office where he or she stands on the development of the St. Lawrence River—a project which would create here in the northeast an industrial, agricultural and recreational empire such as we have scarcely red hope for.

Find out what he thinks about the continuation of the Boil improvement program and any other matter vitally affecting the welfare of our northeast agriculture.

You can't blame your Congressman for not representing you in Washington if you vote for him without knowing whether he stands for the things you stand for or not and he cannot blame you if you throw him out of office when he fails to do his utmost to keep his pledges.

Electing capable men and women to office is the first step towards restoring sound, workable government to our nation.

The next step toward eliminating part of the maze of government regulations that ensnare and discourage us is to regulate ourselves. Farmers can do this through the strong cooperatives which have done so much to improve and maintain the position of agriculture in the northeast. Industry and labor can practice self-regulation through their trade organizations and unions.

If we regulate ourselves through our own organizations, then we will be in a better position to protest against the harassing and multitudinous regulations of the Federal Government. If we do not regulate ourselves, then we may expect that government will do it for us though it does it badly. The day when every man can operate his farm or his business without regard for others is past.

At last we are awake. At last we realize the far-reaching effects which have been brought about through our own carelessness. We are a resentful people now. With every family in the land broken by a world war, the end of which is not in sight, we find ourselves hemmed in by regulations at every turn.

The year of decision has arrived. It is the year 1944. This is the year in which the people of America will decide whether we will re-assume our responsibilities, recover our government and go forward to the new world ahead as self-governing men and women or whether we will continue along the primrose path, a decadent and subservient people.

I know what the answer is. I know that Americans will not weakly admit they are unable to govern themselves.

The year 1944 will be a great year for America. It willbe one in which we will resolve that we shall re-assume the responsibility for government beginning with the humblest local unit. That is where sound government always begins.

Let us get away from building government from the top and restore it to its firm foundation of well-ordered local communities. America will be saved, but it will not be saved from Washington. It is upon the men and women of farm and factory, of church and school, and of the home that the responsibility for and the security of our country rests, and these people will not fail.