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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Michael J. Kirwan


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



Interview with Rep. Michael J. Kirwan (D-OH)
June 9, 1959

General remarks: Couldn't keep him on the point--Appropriations Committee is all that stands between us and the fate of Rome, Spain, et cetera--a cutter.


"I'll tell you this. Before I came on the Appropriations Committee, I didn't know anything. After I got on the Appropriations Committee I learned plenty fast--you get the point I mean?"


How on the Committee? He saw "the powers that be", and spoke specifically to the man who represented his interests on the Ways and Means Committee--says he requested Appropriations.


Regarding assignments on his subcommittee: He said that he did have some influence this year--"I didn't want one fellow who wanted to get on who was from west of the Mississippi. There are too many people from west of the Mississippi. You look at the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and there's not one from east of the Mississippi."


Advice to new men: "Follow the chairman until you get your bearings. For the first two years, follow the chairman. He knows. He's been around for a long time. Then take more of a part yourself."


"The Appropriations Committee is the guardian of the taxpayers money. It's the only group that stops these wild schemes, these bum schemes that come up here every year."


Regarding subcommittee activity: he stressed his knowledge--"Every year I take a trip across America." One year he goes on a northern route, then middle, and then southern--it's not easy--hard work--"Nobody knows America like I do. I don't go around the world, but I know the things I appropriate for."


Regarding floor action: People follow him on the floor and in the subcommittee because he has the information and knowledge--"The interior bill used to take three days. Now it takes only three hours. I know the bill and the members trust me." Regarding changes on the floor: "No, not on important things."


"I don't believe I've ever had a change made in full committee in my bills."


Subcommittee, he says, follows him--thus he dominates entire process on the interior bill--Example: He spoke of one park project that he defeated single handedly on the floor (not clear how it got there): "I kicked it out"--"They want to spend one and a half million to find out what's the best way to play--they call it recreation." And he went on to talk about other agencies spending for the same thing.


I asked him about sticking together. "No, they don't. They go off in all directions. I do. I stick with the committee through thick and thin. You've got to protect the committee." And he went on to discuss the water lily episode. Here is an example of the problem--they generalize on the basis of the immediate or the recent past, and you can't tell whether their answers are bounded in time by this experience or whether they are truly attempting to generalize--This is not a matter of their intentions at all--it's just that they do not normally reflect about these things and are not prepared to generalize. (Public works had just been up on the floor. I couldn't get him off this area.)


Regarding why some bureaus do better than others, he got off on a speech, but did mention that the Forest Service needs access roads to cut ripe timber, et cetera.


Regarding secrecy: He thinks only congressmen should be in the hearing room, and not all these lobbyists, "cluttering up the hearing room and coming from every town so that they can say they're a big fellow back home." Regarding Public Works.


Regarding conference: "I've never lost a conference. Never lost anything that I think is important. If I think something has got to go out, I'll sit there till Christmas. I'm in no hurry to go home. I'll sit there till Christmas. My wife is not here; she's in Youngstown, Ohio, and I'm in no hurry to go home."