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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Keith Thomson


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Interview with Rep. Keith Thomson (R-WY)
June 8, 1959

"There's a tendency, after you've been here a while to think that any cut is good. I don't believe that."


Why on committee? He wanted Appropriations because 1) the financial situation is the most important in the country, and 2) coming from a state with one congressman, he felt he'd be more in touch with a wide variety of things on Appropriations than on any other committee.


How get on? "Two years ago, I let my wishes be known. Mr. Joseph W. Martin (R-MA) was the leader then, and I talked to him, but there were no vacancies. I talked to most of the people from my area of the country. And of course, Mr. [John] Taber [R-NY, the ranking minority member], I talked to him two or three times about it." Then this year he went on.


Regarding subcommittee assignment: Mr Taber told him there was an opening on the Defense Subcommittee if he wanted it--he said yes--then he said he wanted Interior or Public Works. Regarding Public Works: "There's a tendency, and I don't mean to be critical of John Taber, but he doesn't like to appoint you to a committee dealing with reclamation if you have reclamation in your district. I think that's wrong. I know reclamation, and have a more realistic and conservative view, being on the spot." He did, however, get on the interior Subcommittee, though it sounds as if he wanted Public Works a bit more--the rule was violated in his case, though for Interior. "Mr Taber knew my record on these things, and he knew I wasn't going to build projects just to build projects or anything like that." He speaks of himself as being very conservative.


"When I was on the legislative committee, I had quite a different picture of the appropriations process than I have now. I thought you could pinpoint the thing much better than you can. . . . I think that on the whole we come out with some pretty good bills. Maybe I'm just a perfectionist as to how you arrive at the figure. The appropriations bills certainly aren't wild-eyed or anything. . . . (But) I definitely have a feeling of frustration here. I wouldn't want you to make any mistake about that. . . . I know we could cut this military budget 5 per cent--and that's a pretty big cut--without endangering our national security at all. But we can't do it now with the information we have." The idea is that he knows cuts are needed and possible, but he worries about the arbitrary nature of them--he wants cuts, but he also wants detailed justifications for the cuts which satisfy him--he says there is a need for staff.


Subcommittee chairmen have "an inordinate amount of power."


Regarding Interior Subcommittee: "We began on the bill right at the beginning of the session, and we went along so fast that I didn't have time to get a grasp of things."


He complained that in the Defense Subcommittee they heard general testimony first and detailed testimony second--By the time the interservice disagreements were developed and the information on them available, he wanted the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs to come back--at the beginning of the testimony, with these top officials, you only get an "innuendo" of disagreement, but it never comes out sufficiently so that you can question them on specific decisions--by the end of the hearings you can, but you don't get another shot at them. Perhaps this is another dilemma for the new man, which puts him at a real disadvantage in his first two terms or so. Or, does this affect all members of the committee adversely? If so, can we say that the procedure is designed to be of maximum benefit to the agencies in this respect?


Regarding problem of committee report: It is written by the subcommittee chairman--not seen by anyone. Regarding the ranking minority member: "maybe he saw it, maybe he didn't." Regarding the rest of the committee: "The first time you see it is at the full committee--or maybe a little before. You hardly have any time to find out what's in it."


"Aside from the reports, there's very little partisanship in the committee. . . . On the Democratic side they have some of the most responsible members on the committee. . . . Maybe that's because they've been around and seen."


He made point that the subcommittee chairman dominates because he works closely with the staff and has more information.


Regarding Budget Bureau: a much more charitable attitude--"very knowledgeable people over there"--"Our staff should work very closely with them." Staff "should begin there in developing their figures." "We're both devoted to economy." Regarding interior bill: "The Budget Bureau gave us some very good figures to begin with"--He makes the observation that the older men are less in favor of it--perhaps he, as a newcomer, just doesn't have the anti-budget bureau bias because he hasn't been around long enough to absorb the traditional stock of attitudes.