Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Wilbur Mills
Interview Notes Index
Access to this interview is subject to the deed of
gift of December 14, 1993.
Interview with Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D-AR)
Regarding the fact that there are more applicants for the positions than there are positions: "Why wouldn't there be? A fella sees he can do more for his district on that committee. Sometimes we'll talk around and urge certain fellows to run. But we always have more applicants."
Regarding the 1963 selections: "North Carolina didn't put up a candidate. We talked to some of the fellows and asked them to run, but they were all situated on committees. South Carolina had a candidate. They had had a member and lost him. Of course, they didn't have the continuity on the committee that North Carolina had. There had been a big gap between [Thomas S.] McMillan's [D-SC] term on the committee and [John J.] Riley's [D-SC]. [Robert T.] Ashmore [D-SC] should have been elected. But he just didn't get around and speak to enough people. You have to do that, it's very important. You have to go around and visit with the members of the committee and let them know you really want it." Then he went on to say that the omission was not too glaring because the rest of the South had members. He ticked off the members from various states and said that when you take the whole region into account, that is to say the whole South, representation is not bad.
He stressed area first and spoke of the committee as "a cross section of the nation." Then he said, "we don't usually pick a member for that committee until he has been around for several terms, so that an evaluation can be made of him. We want to know whether he has the ability and whether he will work and attend the meetings. That committee works very hard and has laborious hearings. There's a lot of detail work. The chairman of those subcommittees want men on their subcommittees who will do the job."
Party regularity was not a major factor. "Oh, once in a while there may be a case where a fellow loses because of party regularity, but not usually."
Regarding a safe district: He did not think this was very applicable--"You would eliminate a whole section of the country if you did that."
"There is one aspect of the whole process that I just don't understand. I don't think it's right for a committee to hold all of its meetings in executive session. Frankly, I think it's deplorable. Everyone that goes in there asks for more money. The record is replete with other members of Congress all asking for more money. Nobody goes in there and supports a cut. With that kind of record, it's a wonder they do as well as they do. With the record you get in there, you can't support any cuts. I don't know why they keep it that way but they do. It must serve some purpose, but I never could figure it out. The committee could change it if they wanted to or the House rules could be changed but the committee likes it that way for some reason. I think it's bad practice."
"The committee has a very good reputation. I think the committee is accepted as doing work of high standards. They present their bills well. They are very seldom amended on the floor. Years ago we used to take a week or ten days on an appropriations bill, and you would have many amendments. Now we pass appropriations bills in a few days and they are seldom amended. They are accepted as doing a good job. They usually have cuts--not all in one place but in many different places. So you know they have gone through it with a fine tooth comb.