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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Fred Marshall


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Interview with Rep. Fred Marshall (D-MN)
May 28, 1959

General remarks: deliberate, perceptive, and forthright--his key word was work, very anxious to work, stressed this continually--a most impressive figure.


Why on the Committee? "I'm probably one of those rare instances, but I didn't want to get on the Appropriations Committee. When I came here I wanted to be on the legislative committee on agriculture. Mr.[Sam] Rayburn [D-TX, Speaker of the House] called me one day and said that he was very sorry that it was not possible to put me on the Agriculture Committee. Then he asked me what committee I wanted. I said I was interested in doing the work of a congressman and that he knew more about it than I did. He said fine, or something like that. Two years later I went on the floor one day, and someone said, `Congratulations, you're on the Appropriations Committee.' That's how I got on the Appropriations Committee."


Regarding his subcommittee now: "I can't think of any place I'd rather be than on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture."


On learning the ropes--by sitting in on the hearings and studying the justifications: "On the Appropriations Committee you spend the first few years just acquainting yourself with the work of the agencies." His stress is always on work.


Why does the House always cut? "I suppose there's a lot of tradition to it . . . the Appropriations Committee gets the first crack at the budget after it leaves the executive . . . the longer you are on the committee the more conservative you become. I've never known a man on the committee to become more liberal with regard to spending and economy than when he came to Congress." Why? "I suppose the longer you are here the more acquainted you become with the places where there is waste"--someone else told me (I think it was Bill Morris [of Representative H. Carl Andersen's staff]) that Marshall came to the committee a flaming liberal.


He cited the fourteen roll calls on the Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) bill, and the next year it went though easily--"That year there was an economy wave sweeping the country; the next year they wanted to cure cancer. The House is a pretty good window on community thinking. The members are close to their constituencies. They have to be."


Regarding action on the House floor: "Oh, you get into a lot of angles there"--he seemed to think that the likelihood of being overturned on the floor is greater than in the full committee, but he did not elaborate.


The full committee nearly always accepts the subcommittee recommendation. In the subcommittee--"We expect the chairman and the clerk to have recommendations. He presents them, and then if someone feels differently we argue it out." In the full committee: "It's a kind of preview of what is going to go before the House"--the chairman of the committee presides, "He always calls first on the chairman of the subcommittee who explains what the subcommittee has done. Then he calls on the ranking minority member." "If there are any questions" they try to answer them, and others may speak--very rarely do they get overturned. He remembers once when the Public Works Committee sent the bill back to subcommittee. I guess that means the full committee sent the public works bill back to the Public Works Subcommittee--(maybe that's when he resigned from the Public Works Subcommittee).


"Mr. [Clarence] Cannon [D-MO, Chairman of Appropriations] and Mr. [John] Taber [R-NY, the ranking minority member] work together pretty closely in Appropriations."


With respect to communication with the chairman of the subcommittee: "It's an informal thing. If you sit next to the chairman, or you are visiting with the chairman, you will tell him what your feelings are about some things"--but he waited until markup to request a boost in hospital construction for the Indians.


Regarding Mr. Cannon: "Of course he's been here a long time and has a lot of experience. He wrote the rules under which the House operates and is one of the ablest parliamentarians in the world. He has a good sense for personality and is adept at handling the committee. Of course, the committee would not follow him if it didn't want to. He has a great deal of respect. He's an able man--a hard working man"--able equals hard working for him--"He's more adept at handling his own committee than he is on the floor."


Regarding success and failure: "The Forest Service has a reputation for being a well administered agency"--they also do good "public relations work"--also, they are a revenue-producing agency. He cites the case of access roads, et cetera, and says that here there were three cases where the committee raised the estimate--"They are proud of their work, they always have so much to show you, especially if you are a member of Congress. They are dedicated men. They have the same kind of missionary spirit that a good Minister has."


Regarding the Soil Conservation Service, the growth of districts was cited.


Then he mentioned the Fish and Wildlife people and concluded that, "You might say that there is more pressure applied here than in the Forest Service." The Forest Service has revenue more immediately visible.


Regarding the Extension Service: "That's a state and local program. Actually, federal contributions have been falling behind the state and local ones. If the state and local people are willing to contribute their money, it's a pretty good indication that the program is worthy of federal support."


Regarding the attitude of other members--this was the one question that got him really chuckling: "Oh, they don't like the Appropriations Committee; you step on too many toes. Any appropriations committee does this. If a member has a pet project, he thinks that's the most important thing in the world. It has a great deal to do with his future. If he doesn't get it, he may carry a grudge for a long time."


Regarding the Appropriations Committee: "It's a hard working committee"--He (or someone right in here) called the committee, "It's the workshop of Congress."


Regarding the Senate: The first point he made was that the House studies it [appropriations requests] in much more detail than the Senate--"You have 435 representatives and 96 Senators. It's always easier to do the political trading with a smaller number. You do this for me, Jim, and I'll do that for you, Joe." He cited the difference between Mr. Richard Russell (D-GA) in agriculture and Mr. Lister Hill (D-AL) in HEW--Russell knows agriculture; he has worked with it; and he know the detail; "he brings in a budget that will hold the line." Hill is very sympathetic to HEW and wants to spend--"I don't believe he has any understanding of money"--"So there you have the two extremes you might say"--the idea in comparison between the House and Senate was that the more details you study, the more waste you find.


"The questions you ask (in subcommittee hearings) and the way you ask them, have a lot to do with the answers you get. You ask them so as to get the answer you had beforehand." He says that the chairman may ask him to make a special study and hold hearings on a particular matter.


Regarding his contact with bureau people during the year: Marshall and the clerk went out to see Indian health facilities--they were "deplorable"--he came back and recommended more money than the bureau had asked for. "We went into one doctor's house where he lived with his family, and he had five pans collecting water that was leaking through the roof of a prefabricated house which wasn't built too well in the first place"--so they came back, and on the basis of their "personal experience" got a boost in estimate. He said that the nature of communication differed from case to case. Sometimes we make "overtures for contact" if we want to pursue something developed in the hearing--he says that Congress could go on more trips after adjournment, but the problems are 1) a congressman is "duty bound" to go back to his district, and 2) a congressman is tired and wants to rest.


"I serve on two subcommittees--one is known as the Jamie Whitten Committee, the other is known as the John Fogarty Committee"--one way of stressing the importance of the subcommittee chairman. He spoke of the various subcommittee chairmen--"Members expect them to lead the committee. You've got to have leadership." He talked about the difference between Mr. John J. Rooney (D-NY), Mr. John E. Fogarty (D-RI), and Mr. Jamie L. Whitten (D-MS). Regarding Rooney: "He adheres to a strict procedure, he keeps the witness right on the ball and goes into great detail." Fogarty: He lets the witness have plenty of chances to say what he wants. Whitten: "He wants the other members to interrupt and ask questions. The hearings are hard to follow because we keep going off on tangents." "I couldn't say which one (of the three) is most effective. They all have the respect of their committees."