Research Interview Notes of Richard F. Fenno, Jr. with Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1959-1965
Interview Notes Index
Access to this interview is subject to the deed of
gift of December 14, 1993.
Interview with Rep. J. Vaughan Gary (D-VA)
May 27, 1959
General remarks: great concern for the taxpayers' money--he stressed the need for an overall view--particularly interesting that I should have gained this impression, because he was the first subcommittee chairman interviewed.
Why on the committee? "Very frankly, when I came up I wanted to be on the Ways and Means Committee. I was tax commissioner in the state of Virginia, but we had a man on the Ways and Means Committee (A. Willis Robertson) so I couldn't get on that committee."
He spoke of Appropriations as "one of the two most powerful committees--Ways and Means and Appropriations."
"My delegation didn't have a man on Appropriations, and we wanted to get one on. The delegation met and proposed me for the position. Mr. [Matthew M.] Neelay [D-WV] also wanted on, but Gary won on the Ways and Means Committee by one vote--"When Senator Robertson went off Ways and Means and a vacancy came up, I had piled up so much seniority that I stayed here. Personally, I would have preferred the other, but I felt I could serve my district best by staying on Appropriations"--"They are very careful in selecting members of the Appropriations Committee--more careful than on most other committees"--"A man follows his natural bent--most people feel that a place on the Appropriations Committee gives them more political influence--for himself, I mean." What he means here is influence over projects in his district--"They feel they can get more for their district--and that's true."
Why does the House always cut? Every man who's worth anything, any executive, wants to expand his organization. He feels that it is the center of the universe--he says that he found this out while serving in Virginia as the tax chief--he feels that this is natural, and that it is okay, but the job of the Appropriations Committee becomes one of cutting them.
He spoke with some pride about the fact that the treasury bill had gone through from his subcommittee untouched in the last two years.
He mentioned the Banking and Currency Committee going to conference over the housing authority which allows for backdoor borrowing--"We won't have anybody in there to fight it." Banking and Currency is in favor, and the Senate is in favor--even though the House, on the floor, tacked on the Thomas amendment to take this authority to borrow out of the bill--it will get sacked in the committee because the committee in conference is opposed to the amendment--he was extremely exercised about backdoor borrowing and the lack of overall control over appropriations.
"In subcommittee we take the bill up item by item. I throw out a figure and someone may name another. I may say that sounds a little high to me or a little low to me, but I'll split the difference with you. That's the way I operate. I like to take the subcommittee in with me. Some chairmen take it personally if you oppose their figure. I don't."
He recalled only one change in the full committee of his subcommittee bill. This was when Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield gave his ultimatum on mail delivery--"he said he'd stop delivery. I said, go ahead and stop it . . . when I go downtown in my town in Virginia on a Saturday morning no one is working. Why do we need a Saturday delivery? I was for sticking by our guns"--but the full committee overruled the subcommittee.
"There is no politics in this committee. . . . (Regarding Mr. [Gordon] Canfield [R-NJ, the ranking minority member of Gary's subcommittee]) I'm devoted to him, and we work very closely together . . . when it comes to spending money I'm more tight than he is. He is more liberal"--He went on to cite the different backgrounds--"I was brought up to believe in a balanced budget. He was brought up where people want government to do more things for them."
When a bureau calls during the year to ask permission to use funds a little differently, he always consults Canfield, and he checks with other members of the subcommittee. He used this as an example of bipartisanship.
Mr. Clarence Cannon (D-MO), Chairman of Appropriations, has great influence on the committee. He stressed the personality of the man more than the position he holds--"He's a difficult man to work with because he's a lone wolf. He never tells you what he's going to do. He doesn't consult with his committee, just pops out and announces things, like this Deficiency Subcommittee. (The old system) was working just fine, and all of a sudden he goes back to the old deficiency system. We were as surprised as people on the outside."
Regarding the Bureau of the Public Debt: "We've had a lot of trouble trying to get them into line, trying to get them to modernize and use new methods, but they're in line now." Example: substituting check-like bonds for the older and prettier ones.
"The Treasury is the most economical department in the Federal government. We had a succession of secretaries interested in saving money. We have difficulty cutting them sometimes."
In answer to the question of success and failure, he simply said--"It's the human element."
Regarding other members of the House and their attitudes: "They think we're trying to increase our power." Then he launched into a big attack on backdoor borrowing--"the greatest threat to fiscal soundness"--someone must look over the whole picture--it's "a Senate scheme," speaking particularly of the development loan fund--"Appropriations should originate in the House, and the Senate is using this as a way of getting around the law and originating things over there."
Regarding other members he says, "deep down in their hearts they respect us."
Regarding communications with bureau people: "Yes, almost every night when I get home, there's a communication for me from the Post Office informing me of something they want to do." He mentioned two reasons for contact: 1) if they want to change the use of money a little, and 2) trips taken around to various installments--"we travel around" to different places.
"This is a tough job . . . the other committees don't work as hard"--he speaks of getting home at 12 o'clock at night.
He discoursed about the Coast Guard at some length. It is held down, he said, by the Treasury--other departments are not as frugal as the Treasury.
Regarding the omnibus bill: "frankly I never did see anything in it. The chairman wanted to try it, and I was willing to go along and give it a try; in fact, I was the man who introduced the resolution in full committee . . . it didn't work out very well. I was willing to give it another try, but we jumped it"--the committee clerks apparently favored it.