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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - William Henry Harrison

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Interview with Rep. William Henry Harrison (R-WY)
April 1964
When I walked in he said, regarding my article, "Some of these people sounded kind of sour. It sounds like they didn't get all they wanted."

Regarding partisanship: "Mike and I are political opposites. But in the Committee, he's very fair. He bends over backward to protect our rights, to see that we have all the time we need, and all the information we need. He's not arbitrary. If we make a suggestion that seems reasonable, he'll help us. He goes way overboard to make us feel an integral part of the Committee. And that's proper. We don't want to have minority reports. If we have a sticky problem, we sit down and talk it out. If any of us wanted to be stubborn, we could wreck the appropriations process."

At another point he said that the main advantage of being ranking minority member was that he had access to information that others didn't--information from the staff members. Otherwise, he minimized his position. "What's the difference? You can do a job wherever you are." The point is, however, that some minority members who are not ranking minority members have a greater problem with information and with access to the staff.

He was a self-starter. Appropriations was his preference in the 87th Congress. There was no vacancy, and he got on in the 88th Congress. He said nothing very dramatic. He calls it one of the most powerful committees in the House. He stressed his seniority in the House.

Regarding the chairmanship of the conference committee: "What the hell. I don't see that it makes any difference. You can be just as stubborn without being chairman as you can if you are. The senator used to be chairman. We didn't care. To me it's a hollow honor. It's been resolved now." The controversy took place before he came on the Committee.

His big pitch was that: "The Congress authorizes all these programs. We have to appropriate the money. The only question is when can they spend it, or how much new personnel can they have. We try to cut out the fat. But Congress authorizes this money. One committee can't take on the whole Congress."

He was issue-oriented. He talked about cutting spending. People don't want the government to spend all that money. He had just come back from a Paul Revere squad and was full of budget figures. The Johnson budget was a tricky one because he put next year's expenditures in this year's supplemental.

He applauded the idea of abolishing the Deficiencies Subcommittee.

The Bow task force was mentioned by him several times, and it is clear that the Bow report helped him a great deal. He accepted its goal since, obviously, he was green at the job. He noted that, "We couldn't have done it without the help of the majority." But he kept citing the Bow report and how his subcommittee had made their quota.

He played down internal matters most of the time and, therefore, wouldn't say much about his appointment to the subcommittee. He did say that former Appropriations Committee ranking minority member John Taber (R-NY) worked differently from Ben Jensen (R-IA), the present ranking minority member, apropos of his "interest" in interior. He said he thought he could find savings better than a man who was not interested. He stressed his seniority in getting on the subcommittee. He stressed his know-how. He stressed knowing other members and how things worked as aids to him in knowing how to behave. He obviously had little sense of being an apprentice, and found very little culture shock in coming on the Committee--since he had accumulated some seniority in the House already.