Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Charles Raper Jonas
Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.
Interview with Rep. Charles Raper Jonas (R-NC)
June 4, 1959
General remarks -- he's offbeat on a number of questions -- perhaps due to his southern republicanism -- a rather hurried and distracted interview.
Why on Committee? "I ran for Congress because I wanted to see if I couldn't do something to hold down unnecessary spending." -- believes in balanced budget, live within your means, etc. -- strong statement to this effect.
"I think the leadership considered me a hope for the Republicans in the South and wanted to help me. I made a strong plea that membership on the committee would help me redeem some campaign promises, and would show the people of my district that I could become a man of some importance in Washington." This was the Southern Republican argument. He didn't think it benefited the people of his district, since he had no pet projects -- so it was the prestige that he was after. He wanted to show that a southern representative could have prestige.
Now, he says, "I'm frustrated. I thought I'd be able to do a lot more than I can." He blames this not on the working of the committee, but on the spenders in Congress now, the changed political complexion.
How learn the ropes? "You just pick it up by ear. If a minority member takes an interest in you, he will tell you what some of the problems are, or your other colleagues may help you out a bit. But it doesn't take long to catch on." He used the phrase "low man on the totem pole."
Re. the Special Deficiency Subcommittee (he was a member), he wouldn't say directly, but he thinks that Cannon wanted the bill cut, and put a bunch of tough apples on the committee to really cut. This is pretty generally the opinion. (I'd say)
He does not, definitely, see any club aspect of the committee -- He thinks that the Committee "has been running off in all directions in recent years." He says they are "fairly" closely knit, but not exceptionally so.
Re. full Committee action, "We iron out our differences in committee." We argue it out and usually have a meeting of the minds and a composite view of the Committee . . . if we went on the floor in wide disagreement, the other members will say, "if you can't agree after listening to the testimony and discussing it, how can we understand it? We'll just vote on the basis of who we like the best." He referred here to independent offices subcommittee, especially -- so that part of this statement seems to refer to subcommittee activity.
How evaluate a budget? "It's not a matter of principle, it's a matter of judgment. How can you tell whether an agency needs 5,700,000 or 5,600,000? Who knows? But it's up to us to decide. We are the representatives of the Congress." He stresses again that the Committee must be unified, or all hell will break loose.
Re. feeling of other members, there is not so much "awe" as there used to be. If the Appropriations Committee stuck together and each member exercised the power he has over two or three friends -- and that's a lot of power -- the Appropriations Committee would never be defeated on the floor."
"Any pet project can be killed or made to flower by the Appropriations Committee.
Do your constituents understand? "Not one in a hundred. If I told them all the time we spend in committee -- ever since January, I've spent four or five hours a day in committee. Last year we held a committee meeting on the Fourth of July. On Memorial Day weekend all the other offices were closed, and we held hearings Friday and nearly did on Saturday -- they'd say I was crazy. I don't think the average citizen knows what committee I'm on, though I talk enough about it."
"I'm well known for my conservative views -- for my economizing tendencies."