Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - H. R. Gross
Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.
Interview with Rep. H. R. Gross (R-IA)
Deadly serious man--his function is to keep appropriations in line, as he sees it.
First thing he went into was the line items: "How do you know what's in these items of four billion or one billion dollars? There are some line items, but not enough. You take representation allowances--that's the liquor fund. Some of them I found under representation allowances and some under operations and maintenance and some under, et cetera. . . . . How are you going to know? How is the ordinary member of the House going to find out what's in there? Maybe the members of the Appropriations Committee don't even know--or maybe they don't want you to know. Research as you will, study all you can, and you still can't find out. You get some answers on the floor, but there isn't time on the floor to go into these things. They tell me that before I came down here they used to take a week on an appropriations bill. Now if they take two days, they're making a big concession. They say, 'We've got to get it through in a day, so we can go home for the weekend.' I don't have time to ask the questions I want to ask."
Regarding putting over votes (but not regarding appropriations) he said, "That's the way they push you around over here. I'm not going to let em. I'm going over to the floor and keep them from putting the vote over till Wednesday. I don't know whether I want to vote on anything, but I'm going to do it anyway." He seemed to picture himself as in a game of wits with the leadership.
Regarding Committee: "I make more points of order on appropriations bills than anyone else. And I do it to keep them in line. They'll bring in projects that haven't even been authorized by the legislative committee. I don't make points of order on all legislation on an appropriations bill, because some may be necessary due to changing conditions; but you've got to hold them down. If they're going to do all the appropriating without authorization we might as well give up the legislative process. And they don't make any mistakes. They know what they're doing. I just want to keep the legislative process working according to the rules of the House."
He says he can find out what stage appropriations are at, but he can't find out when they are coming to the floor. "They make it hard for you to find out." He mentioned, in the course of his statement, how the Appropriations Committee dealt in supergrades and that was his committee's work--he said they give supergrades "to help their friends in the various agencies."
He complained regarding conference reports--"They come over from the Senate, and we get one hour of debate--all controlled by the majority, by the ranking majority member on the conference. We vote to approve the conference report first, and then take up the amendments. I don't like that. They ought to have thirty minutes controlled by those who oppose it. Usually, the conferees all support it, and if you want to speak against it, you've got to get them to yield to you for five minutes. But he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to. It's at the election of the majority. You can't move to strike out the last word or anything." He added some complaint about incompleteness of legislative appropriations conference report and their inability to know what the Senate wanted, et cetera. "Last year, we passed a foreign aid bill in July and sent it over to the Senate. It laid over there till the second week in September, and when they sent it back here, it was an omnibus appropriations bill--loaded down with items that weren't germane to the bill. The Senate has no rule of germaneness. At 2 o'clock in the morning, we took up the conference report. I tried to find out what was in it, but how could you? I doubt if even the ranking members of the Appropriations Committee knew all of what was in that bill. Everybody wanted to get out, and go home. At 6:30, a.m., we adjourned."
"Some of these legislative committees are comfortable, just plain comfortable. They don't want to do any work."
He thought the Appropriations Committee worked harder than most committees because they have to keep up.
He "wouldn't mind" being on Appropriations.
General tenor is that it's hard to know about and keep up with Appropriations--the Committee does seem to be one jump ahead of the ordinary member, however diligent.