Herewith the inside story of the Barkley revolt and the row between Roosevelt and Congress
ERNEST K. LINDLEYApril11944
Herewith the inside story of the Barkley revolt and the row between Roosevelt and Congress
ERNEST K. LINDLEY
THE QUARREL between the President and Congress over domestic issues on which this column has reported at length during the last year has reached and surmounted a crisis. The precipitating, or precipitated, agent was Senator Alben W. Barkley, Kentucky, a veteran of the Democratic Party. President Roosevelt chose Barkley as majority leader of the Senate in 1937. Ordinarily, members of the majority Party in each house pick their own leaders, without suggestion from the White House. But Mr. Roosevelt, having carried 46 of the 48 states in the preceding national election, made bold to designate Senator Barkley, who was neither the ablest nor the most popular of the three leading candidates for the post. He was influenced by the fact that Barkley had supported him steadfastly in several hard fights, including his effort to enlarge the United States Supreme Court, whereas other candidates had displayed occasional independence. By extreme pressure he obtained Barkley’s election by a margin of one vote.
For more than six years Barkley supported the White House in the manner of a clumsy but faithful mastiff. He became known, even among White House aides, as “Bumbling Barkley” and “an inert mass of good will.” The more or less anti - Roosevelt Democrats systematically defied and taunted him, while the President took his complete loyalty for granted.
Near the end of February the President decided to veto a tax bill. He had asked for $10.5 billions in new taxes, but the bill passed by Congress gave the Treasury a net yield of less than one billion. It was riddled with special concessions to special interests. Although the President has the same right and duty to veto a tax bill that he has to veto any other bill, no tax bill since the adoption of the Constitution had ever been vetoed. Barkley was a member of the Senate Finance Committee which approved the bill. The President informed him that he was going to veto the bill and urged him to support the veto, which could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
Barkley urged the President to reconsider his decision but gave no indication he would not bow to it.
Two days later the President, his aides and all of Washington and the nation were dumfounded when the patient Barkley denounced the veto, urged that it be overridden, and submitted his resignation as majority leader. If the President had alienated Barkley, on whom could he rely? It seemed to follow that the breach between the Executive and Congress had become too wide to be bridged. If this were true the President’s chances of being renominated and re-elected were indeed slim. For many voters generally sympathetic to the President might well be restrained by the prospect of an unbreakable deadlock between the two branches of government.
The President, who was out of Washington at the time, made a quick recovery. In a message to Barkley, which he made public, he said that his veto message was not intended to reflect on the integrity of any
member of Congress, that he realized that he and Barkley and the other Senators were bound to differ at times, that his esteem for Barkley would not be lessened by such differences, and that he hoped that the Democratic Senators would either reject Barkley’s resignation or promptly re-elect him to majority leadership.
Before starting his rebellion Barkley had been assured by anti-Roosevelt Democrats that if he resigned they would vote for his reinstatement. They executed their pledge. Between their support and the President’s, Barkley was unanimously re-elected. If Barkley had been a clever, calculating politician, which he is not, he could not have contrived a manoeuvre more to his personal advantage. His rebellion was passionately sincere. He was deeply moved by the votes cast for him by Senators who only a few months ago had been demanding his ouster. For the first time he now goes to the White House as the freely chosen leader of his colleagues, rather than as Mr. Roosevelt’s hand-picked lieutenant. Moreover his prospects of re-election to the Senate from Kentucky this fall have been improved greatly. The Roosevelt supporters will stand by him, while his display of independence has endeared him to the Republican and anti-Roosevelt Democrats who hold the balancent power in this borderline state.
The anti-Roosevelt press avidly hailed the episodo as an acute crisis. At first blush most independent
observers, and some close to the President, were inclined to agree. But after the storm came a lull. The outbreak seemed to have cleared the air. Senator Barkley had purged himself, and vicariously many of his colleagues, of long accumulating resentments. After another night’s sleep many of the Democratic Senators and Representatives who had applauded Barkley’s rebellion began to evince their fear that the affair might have impaired Mr. Roosevelt’s prestige and chances of re-election. The blunt fact, as all practical politicians are agreed, is that Mr. Roosevelt is the only Democrat who has a chance of election to the Presidency this fall. He is stronger than his Party. Unless he is at the head of the ticket most Democrats outside the traditionally Democratic South are doomed to defeat.1 And most of the Southern Democrats, while they differ with Roosevelt on domestic questions, would rather have him than a
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Republican in the White House. Selfinterest, therefore, is impelling the conservative Democratic Senators and Representatives to seek a rapprochement with the White House. The President, likewise, was shocked into the realization that he must pay more attention to the sensibilit ies of the legislative branch of the Government.
The conduct of the war and foreign relations were not issues in this intraParty conflict. In these fields the conservative Democrats respect the President’s competence and, generally, have given him their firm support. The chief differences between the President and Congress, as this column previously has reported, are over management of domestic economy during wartime. The President, on the whole, has fought for strong controls on inflation, including
heavier taxation. He has advocated universal compulsory war service. A majority of Congress, consisting of the Republicans and some of the conservative Democrats (the number varying with the specific issue), stands for “soft” policies.
The President has not been uniformly severe in his policies. During the earlier stages of the war the Administration favored organized labor. But it is now holding the line firmly against general wage increases, and the President’s request for a compulsory service act, favored by the War and Navy Departments, encountered solid union opposition.
Turns to the People
Balked by Congress the President’s choice was to submit or to carry his case to the people. For the issues which he regarded as highly important he chose the second course. His tax bill veto was one of a series of biting messages intended both to make a record and to stir up the public. The bite was felt not only by the Republicans but by the conservative Democrats who have collaborated with them. From the point of view of this bipartisan majority, the President is attacking Congress. From the point of view of the White House, the attack is on a portion of the record of Congress and is a defense of the national interest against the special pressure groups which hold sway over a majority of the legislature.
In the opinion of this column the President will not yield on these issues. He will be more careful of his language. He will listen at greater length to the advice of the leaders of his Party in Congress. But he will not yield, because he cannot without releasing the brakes on inflation, surrendering his leadership, and failing to discharge his obligation to mobilize the home front as completely as possible for war.
Unquestionably he is handicapped by lack of confidence on the part of the public as well as Congress and in a few of his Cabinet members of long service. Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau is especially unpopular in Congress. Another man undoubtedly could make a stronger case for higher taxes. But it is difficult for the President to let Morgenthau go, not only because of their long personal friendship but because it would seem to be an admission of error in demanding higher taxes and vetoing the modest tax bill which Congress passed.
By traditional methods of political calculation the odds now appear to be against Air. Roosevelt’s re-election— although he can have the renomination without active opposition. Outside the regularly Democratic South his strength in the two preceding elections has come largely from organized labor and from younger voters of all occupations. It is reasonable to suppose that millions of working people who have migrated during the war have not troubled, or will not trouble, to qualify themselves to vote at their new residences. In some states this involves a good deal of red tape.
Approximately 11,000,000 younger people are in the armed services. Some of them, of course, are below voting age. The sober judgment of the politicians of all Parties is that a majority of the service vote, if it were cast and counted, would go to the President. This is demonstrated by the fact that a combination of Republicans and antiRoosevelt Democrats in Congress is blocking the President’s efforts to make voting in the national election easy for service men and women through a Federal ballot. Constitutional and intricate mechanical problems are
involved, but they could be solved easily if the opposition were not convinced that their solution would mean votes for Roosevelt.
On the Republican side, the steady rise of Governor Thomas E. Dewey, New York, has been the outstanding development of the last two months. Dewey still refuses to become an active candidate, but everyone knows he will accept if nominated. Wendell Willkie is still fighting vigorously for the nomination.
The progress of the Central Pacific offensive has raised the Navy to a new peak of prestige. The invasion of the Marshalls demonstrated not only great power but ingenious and precise coordination of all arms. In fact, some naval tacticians thought the invasion had been “overplanned,” that the details were too complex to be executed successfully. But they were carried out exactly according to prescription, and the result was a complete success achieved with very small losses.
In contrast, the Italian campaign has been chronically disappointing, although not to the point of stimulating domestic political controversy. The fact that Italy is a secondary front has been widely publicized, and in the European theatre the attention of the public has been centred on the air assault on Germany and the preparation for the invasion of the Continent from the west.
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Canada’s suspension of meat rationing caused momentary consternation among Washington officials, although they understood the reasons for it. For similar reasons in the United States they already had planned a reduction in point values for beef and pork and a special pork bonus, to permit larger domestic consumption during March. The Canadian decision led Chester Bowles, price and rationing administrator, to announce this liberalization three days ahead of schedule.
He and his colleagues feared, however, that the public would fail to understand why meat rationing was necessary in the United States when it was not in Canada, and would suspect that the mild relaxation here had been forced by the Canadian action rather than by an unexpected piling up of supplies. Lend-lease and other officials concerned with foreign policy and the war operations braced themselves for a strong public demand to curtail meat exports except to the armed forces of the United States. It is no secret that, with this possibility in mind, representations were made to the Canadian Government by both Britain and American authorities in the hope of heading off such a drastic solution of a temporary problem. Excerpts from Mr. Ilsley’s explanation were widely published in the American press and were supplemented by statements from American officials stressing that Canadian consumption of meat is only about one fifth that of the United States and elaborating on transportation and storage difficulties. Still American consumers would welcome any increment of meat, especially of beef, no matter how small, and naturally asked themselves why if the Canadian surplus could not be shipped to Britain, it was not sent to New York, Detroit and Seattle. Various spokesmen for meat and livestock interests immediately renewed their pleas for the abandonment of meat rationing. The immediate reaction from the public generally was less severe than Washington officials had dared expect, but the episode strenthened their feelings that in such matters the Canadian and American Governments should march in step.
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