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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Albert Thomas


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Interview with Rep. Albert Thomas (D-TX)
June 1, 1959

General remarks: Obviously very sharp--but very guarded; he never really opened up, and I had the feeling he really didn't want to help--a key man however on the committee.


How did you get on the committee? "Hard work and lots of hand shaking--you know, the old routine"--the Speaker was opposed to it at the time.


Why did you go on the committee? He said he gave up an easy committee assignment--"I must have been crazy to give that up and take a working job. Seriously, it's a committee that means something."


"If you want to play there's no room for you on this committee. The committee meets all day all the time." He went into the provision for sitting--only the Appropriations Committee has the continuous privilege of sitting while the House is in session--I sensed a feeling of esprit here.


Regarding subcommittee action: "That's where the bill is virtually written." He said earlier that one time in fifty the full committee changes the subcommittee version. Later he said that one time in ten the subcommittee is overthrown in the full committee--in any case very seldom--the full committee can do it--"they've got the authority, and they've got the votes, and they can be tough as an old boot"--if the subcommittee is overthrown in the full committee it will not go onto the floor and fight he said.


Regarding his role: "My job as chairman is to keep down partisanship."


Regarding subcommittee markup: "Usually the chairman has a figure and I'll say, 'Eddie [Boland, D-MA], what do you think?' If Eddie shakes his head, that's it. There are no greenhorns here. We've worked together for a long time, and we've developed ways for getting a compromise. Usually I'll take the judgment of the younger members of the committee and say, 'Eddie, you and Charlie [Jonas, R-NC] get together, and whatever you come up with, that's it.'"


He likes Boland: "I'll supply the push if Eddie will supply the brains"--Boland is "right in the middle"--he has Boland on his two committees--a real protege system--he and Eddie work out in the gym together.


Advice to newcomer: "Work hard, keep quiet, and attend the committee sessions. We don't want to listen to some new person coming in here, and after a while, when you know what you're doing, we'll listen to you."


"When we get a compromise figure, nobody's going to break that up. If someone tries, we sit on him fast, (we don't want) young people who throw bricks or who slow things down"--he emphasized the smooth working relationships of a non-partisan character on his subcommittee--he made a big point of the lack of partisanship on his committee.


Regarding the Senators: "don't sell them short. They don't have the time to go into detail, but they make up for it by having much more help than the House members"--we look at them with "sorrow and respect," he said with a twinkle in his eye.


Regarding the attitudes towards the Appropriations Committee of the other members: It is "not very popular in the House."


Regarding the Deficiencies Subcommittee: "I picked the members of my subcommittee--"he said it was a thankless job. Everybody has it in for you, and he says he wouldn't do it again.
On the conference committee: "The House usually dominates the situation"--this is because the House has the most information--he who knows the most about it dominates the situation--he said that when the House doesn't care much they will split the difference, but where they want to hold fast they do--he said, like Ben F. Jensen (R-IA), that if they go back to the House and the House sustains the committee, that the Senate will yield--"that's all there is to it."


Regarding bureau estimates: "Padding has an unsavory connotation. It sounds unethical; let's say they put a little cushion in there."


He doesn't like the Budget Bureau: He took pains to point out that some bureaus are upped and some bureaus are cut--he made this point to demonstrate that the Bureau of the Budget does not appropriate, and that the Constitution gives the House the first formulation of appropriations bills--the Budget Bureau does not and cannot do this--he called the Budget Bureau "a creature of the Congress."


New agencies, he said, tend to be overstaffed--they don't know what they're going to do, and they err on the side of safety by putting more jobs in than are necessary--you find soft spots, he said, by examining the work load--"work load, that's the thing"--by this he means that you know their functions, and you know how many men it takes to carry out each function--you know this sort of thing from past experience.