The Center for Legislative Archives

Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Winfield K. Denton



Interview Notes Index

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


Interview with Rep. Winfield K. Denton (D-IN)
May 29, 1959
General remarks: considerably partisan, interesting because he is quite clearly not "in" with the committee leadership--he does not identify himself with the committee to the extent that, or in the way that, most other members do.

Why on the committee? "I didn't;" when I came here, I was on the Judiciary Committee. John Dingell (D-MI) on the Ways and Means Committee looked after Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio men in committee assignments. Someone came and wanted to be on the Judiciary Committee. Dingell took Denton off, and since there was a vacancy on the Appropriations Committee he put him on--"The first thing I knew about it was when I was reading the committee assignments. I talked to Mr. X, and he said you go over there and raise hell with them. On the way over I met [Majority Leader John] McCormack [D-MA] who said, 'I'd keep quiet and go along if I were you. This is a better committee, you can help your constituents a lot more.' So I did."

Do you regret it? "Some ways I do, some ways I don't. When the other boys are out having a good time, you have to work"--"but I'm through now," he added with some visible relief. Later he said, "It's a prize assignment . . . but I wouldn't advise anyone to go on Appropriations" (too much work I guess).

"They're a hard working bunch"--it's interesting to note the frequency with which he referred to them as "they"--he probably doesn't work as hard and for that reason, among others, may not identify closely with them.

He sees Appropriations not of the "aristocracy of committees." "Ways and Means is the aristocracy. It's a hierarchy." He also placed the Rules Committee above Appropriations.

Regarding selection: "John Taber [R-NY, the ranking minority member on Appropriations] picks pretty carefully on his side."

"There's a certain amount of padding in every budget . . . they expect to be cut . . . we don't find the half of it, we know that."

He was on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee--says that he and Mr. William H. Natcher (D-KY) were in the middle--four Democrats said, "nothing"--two Democrats and one Republican said, "give em all"--He and Natcher were in the middle--he spoke at some length, and in some detail of the tremendous pressure brought on him from the CIO [Congress of Industrial Organizations] Council via a man to whom he was obligated from back home, by the National Farmers Union lobbyist, and by the Chamber of Commerce--he was removed from the subcommittee--"[Otto] Passman [D-LA] wanted me off the committee"--so Mr. Clarence Cannon (D-MO), Chairman of Appropriations, did it--"You could raise hell about it, I suppose, if you can stir up a revolt, but they won't back you against the chairman."

He says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was "spoon fed by the executive," "a favorite of the executive"--not cut by the Budget Bureau--he said that he was the best friend the program ever had because, I guess, he made them justify their requests.

Mr. Albert Thomas (D-TX) apparently did once organize a revolt when Mr. Cannon took away his subcommittees, and he got them back--Mr. Thomas and Mr. John E. Fogarty (D-RI) don't get along with Mr. Cannon too well, but the other subcommittee chairmen go along with him.

"The chairman has tremendous power. Of course he has had the experience."

Between the Budget Bureau and Appropriations--"great antagonism there."

The majority party caucuses before the markup--the chairman presides--"He sees what the committee will agree to and does a little trading"--then the line is set for the f