Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Joe L. Evins
Interview with Rep. Joe L. Evins (D-TN)
June 12, 1959
How get on Committee? He was on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and had worked up in seniority. Albert A. Gore (D-TN) was on Appropriations. He went to the Senate, and for a while no Tennessee man was on Appropriations. Finally, a vacancy opened up. The Tennessee delegation met, and decided they had to have a man on Appropriations. Jere Cooper was Chairman of Ways and Means, James P. Priest (D-TN) was Chairman of Interstate and Foreign Commerce, et cetera, and Evins was the logical choice. "I said, 'No, thanks.' I was on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and doing very well in seniority--second to the chairman. They said that I should go on Appropriations--that to be anchorman on Appropriations was more important than being chairman of most other committees." So Tennessee put him up.
Regarding determination of seniority on Committee, he said at first that they drew numbers out of a hat, but then changed and said they voted for him to have first position among the newcomers.
Regarding questioning in hearings: "Sometimes the information comes easy, and sometimes you have to sit across the table like a prosecutor and twist the answers out of them. . . . It's our function to ask questions, and find out where the frills and the wastefulness are."
Do constituents understand? "No. They know all the little things you have to do to get elected. But they don't know the vital and fundamental things you do on the Appropriations Committee. That's where you (me) have a chance to render real service to the country." He spoke at great length about this, and said it would be helpful. He told a story about Senator Stuart Symington (D-MO)--works all day in a committee room on defense problems, and comes out on the floor to relax. A lady sitting in the gallery gets him off the floor, and blasts him for not being there on the floor all the time.
Regarding Appropriations Committee Chairman Clarence Cannon (D-MO) changing Texas Democrat Albert Thomas' assignment: he says it was a functional change wholly, and okay--"no resentment" from the Committee--my guess is that this is his attitude because he wasn't hurt.
Conference--give and take--may pass over controversial items first and then come back to them.
Regarding Cannon's functions: 1) Selects staff, 2) creates subcommittees, 3) names subcommittee chairman, 4) sets target dates for the end of subcommittee hearings, 5) puts people on subcommittees--this all done usually by passing resolution at the beginning of each year.
Regarding markup: Someone says four million, other says three million, other, three and a half million. It's bargaining, et cetera--Cannon and John Taber (R-NY), the ranking minority member on Appropriations, are always there. "Sometimes they inject themselves into the discussion, and sometimes they just listen to the members."