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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - John E. Fogarty


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Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.



Interview with Rep. John E. Fogarty (D-RI)
June 5, 1959

General remarks: Refreshingly different--an earnest apostle of Health, Education and Welfare--has public support and is aware of it--very free and easy and cooperative.


"If a subcommittee chairman is vindictive or out to get an agency, he can do it. The fellow on the other side of the table is pretty helpless. . . . In the 80th Congress the chairman was out to get the Labor Department without any rhyme or reason or justification--just so that he could say he cut the Labor Department. . . . We had one fellow who left the Rhode Island Labor Department to come down here and be head of the Division of Labor Standards. I didn't know anything about it, but when he got here I had to tell him that the Appropriations Committee had cut out all the money, and that he had no agency. The chairman was sore because the previous head of the Bureau had fired a friend of his, they cut him 25 per cent and the next year 20 per cent. The next Congress, when I was the subcommittee chairman, I went the other way, I told the subcommittee I was going to see to it that the Labor Department got every cent it asked for, and we got the bill through without anybody dotting a single 'i.'"


"If it weren't for me, the Labor Department would be cut a lot more than it is. . . . I don't want any publicity on that, but I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn't been here." He asked me specifically not to quote that.


Regarding the Labor Department: "It's a vulnerable department"--he talked of his labor background.


"I've differed with Mr. [Clarence] Cannon [D-MO, Chairman of Appropriations] so many times that I can't count--and Mr. [John] Taber [R-NY, the ranking minority member], too. . . . They think that the Appropriations Committee ought to cut every budget; but I think that we ought to raise it when it's a good program, and cut where it's necessary. . . . (In markup) we have long, long battles. They always want the low figure."


"Some of these Senators get a lot of publicity for cutting the budget. But no one in the history of Congress has done more to cut budgets than Mr. Cannon and Mr. Taber. And I think they've done the public a great service."


Regarding the Budget Bureau: It is usurping the authority of Congress--they are a tool of the executive, and are not the independent arm they used to be" (sic)--"They can make recommendations, but they can't appropriate." Since he usually boosts, "They don't like me."


In hearings, "One of my stock questions is, 'How much did you ask the Budget Bureau for?'" The agencies don't come to him and tell him what they need, as, perhaps, in Agriculture. "I hate to dig it out of them in the hearings. Sometimes, I have to ask a question four or five different ways to get the answer I think they ought to give. They are on the spot. They aren't supposed to say--and they are watched carefully. They read the hearings over in the Budget Bureau. I don't ask them off the record. I try to get it in the hearings. I don't want to get them in trouble. Then I bring people in from the outside, and they are free as a goose."


He took a long time pointing out how gradually the health program has grown--how they have been ahead of the American Medical Association and Congress generally--people only gradually catching on in the last five years or so--the idea is that his subcommittee took the initiative and went gradually, especially on programs that were suspiciously viewed.


"Now we are getting results. We can point to specific results in the last few years. And that's very important. We get some very important men in here to testify about them. . . . After every presidential sickness, we brought the doctor in at the next session. I figure if it's good enough for the President, the Congress ought to hear him."


Regarding his strategy in conference and his source of strength: "Sometimes I find myself in the minority--with Mr. Cannon and Mr. Taber there. A couple of times, I've brought it back to the House. If I can get to the floor of the House, I can usually win"--and he cited some cases where he did, just a couple.


Regarding his subcommittee: He talks with people inside and outside of government. Together with his clerk--"I prepare a figure to give to the subcommittee." Sometimes there are disagreements, but very few since the 80th Congress. The subcommittee is very seldom tipped over in full committee or on the floor.


Regarding the fourteen roll calls: "We came up at a bad time that year. Between the time the previous bill and ours came up, there was a big campaign for economy. I don't remember whether it was the NAM [National Association of Manufacturers] or the CC [Chamber of Commerce] or what. But the Republicans and Southern Democrats got together, held a meeting, and decided on amendments which they thought could carry. When it was over, they wished they hadn't. . . . It was my decision to have those roll calls. I made an issue out of it. I could see toward the end they were tired and not doing so well. We were beginning to carry a few amendments toward the end." You can only ask for a roll call when an amendment has been carried, not when it has been defeated.


He was on the Naval Affairs Committee during the war--"Rhode Island is a ship-building state, and it was important to have someone on Naval Affairs. When they merged the two committees into the Armed Services Committee, I didn't like that, and got off."


The Democrats from New England met at the beginning of the next Congress to see what vacancies were up, and made recommendations to the Ways and Means Committee. James M. Curley (D-MA) had been on the Appropriations Committee, and was then off, so there was a New England vacancy. Among those who wanted it, he (Fogarty) had the most seniority. So he was recommended to the Ways and Means Committee. "If the Speaker wanted to go all out, he probably could stop it, but I can't conceive of it. The Ways and Means Committee will pretty much accept the regional recommendation." He summed up, "It's like running for office."


Why on the Committee? "It's the most important committee in the House."


Regarding subcommittee assignment: "I just got put on it." His interests in the Public Health Service grew by just listening to the testimony--couldn't help, but get interested. He became the chairman of the subcommittee in just two years--"very unusual"--all the men ahead of him died or left--maybe this helps in a small way to account for his liberality, i.e., no long apprenticeship.


Regarding conference committees: "I try to get the committee together beforehand to see how far we are willing to go on the different items, and then we go in and bargain."


Regarding the Senate and House: "All the members of the Senate committee are for the program. Senator [Lister] Hill [D-AL] has it easy on his side. My problem is just the opposite." The Senate is more liberal, he generalizes.


He is very much program oriented--sure of the value of them and in the catbird seat--he doesn't share a lot of the committee values--regarding cutting. He is, in Cannon's language, less "business" oriented than program or policy oriented--which also raises the problem here which Sidney R. Yates (D-IL) mentioned--a dilemma--men on the committee are pulled toward cutting, which is their business, and toward spending, which is their interest--especially the liberals.


"Education hasn't been getting anything up till the last four years. That's because I wrote in the report that they should come back and ask for more money. Now that's pretty unusual" (for the Appropriations Committee). Then he went on to tell how he started other programs, mental retardation, multiple sclerosis, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, et cetera.


Regarding constituents: Do they understand? "In the last three or four years they have. Before that, they didn't. I have a very unfavorable press at home." He talked feelingly about the awards he had received, coupled with a dearth of publicity. Regarding the Cancer Society award: "They thought that was pretty good for a person like me, but they gave it only four or five lines. I know there was a picture taken there, but you didn't see it printed. I was over at Geneva and made three speeches at the World Health Conference, and you only saw a few lines on that. . . . But it builds up little by little."