The Center for Legislative Archives

Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - John R. Pillion - 1964


Interview Notes Index

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



Interview with Rep. John R. Pillion (R-NY)
April 1964

Would the subcommittee be the same without Gordon Canfield (R-NJ)? "Entirely different. Gordon Canfield was a nice fellow, but he would spend two hours worrying about the color of a commemorative stamp. I want to know why, why, why do you need this? When you're in there, it's a trial court. You're trying a case in there, and they've got all the witnesses. I don't have any. You have to be tough, you can't believe anything they say. You keep hammering away. That's the lawyer in me. Gordon Canfield wasn't that way. He wanted to ingratiate himself with them. I don't give a damn about them. I don't let personalities enter into it. Outside you may be friends, but when you're in the court room you are enemies--not enemies exactly but opponents. They are just employees to me--people on the payroll. I don't care if they invite me to cocktail parties--as they do--and I go to about one in five. I'm tough."


He rather resisted the idea that you can size up the administrator, et cetera, and focus on the great information lag. "We don't have the manpower." He went on and on complaining about the lack of staff. "It's hit or miss. We have to catch them here and catch them there--find out when they are lying, and when they are double talking you. And they all do it. Some of them make capital productions out of it." He went on to explain how he had caught Kenneth Holum of the Bonneville Power Administration making a statement that was not exactly right. He doesn't think they have enough staff here and enough "on the spot" personnel to check up.


When I asked him about the changes, he said that the Committee was more "suspicious" than it was before--doubtless to reference to his subcommittee. He also said that they had had more success in cutting the budget, and here he cited the Bow task force, together with the fact that the Democrats had attempted to repudiate President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He, like all of the others, saw 1964 as a different situation, with the Democrats much softer with the administration.


He thought the Bow task force had increased partisanship inside the Committee, but he stressed that they did not make it a Republican thing. He saw it as a unifying force. That was his important theme, I think. He felt that it unified the Republicans on the Committee as they had not been before, and this may be a difference since John Taber (R-NY), the former ranking minority member on Appropriations, retired. "Taber was a lone operator. We have more unified positions on things than we used to."


Regarding the initiation of the Bow task force, he said they took it to Ben F. Jensen (R-IA), the ranking minority member on Appropriations, and suggested the idea. "We gave him a little push, and he accepted it." He also said that Taber would have accepted it. He mentioned that Taber was "enfeebled" in his last years.


He saw no changes in the markup because of Taber's retirement. "It won't make any difference in our subcommittee. I know what I want, and how to get it. Some ranking minority members may not be as good at rough and tumble as I am and may not be able to get the best deal they can. It would make a difference there. But not on my subcommittee. Mr. Jensen can't come in and say anything specific on our bill. We take it up line by line, item by item, and he doesn't know anything about it. He hasn't been to the hearings."


Regarding the Senate: "We have to resist their gullibility in swallowing whole everything that's in the budget. The budget is the bible as far as they are concerned. We have to resist them because they want to put everything in that's in the budget and everything that is requested by any senator." He went on to say that rotating the conference committee chairmanship is a good idea, and that the meeting place is good, and that the improvement he wants next is to even up the sides. "We come in with five men, and they come in with twelve or fifteen. Every one of them comes in to argue his case on a political basis. We shouldn't have that. It's embarrassing to have to say no to a senator when he's in there arguing for some project and appealing to you on a political basis."


He thought the conference chairmanship did make some difference. He decides when to meet, when to adjourn, what subjects to talk about, and who will talk.


There are not many clashes with the regular committees.