Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

June 15, 1937

THE PRESIDENT: Steve, have I got any news—I don't think I have.

Q. How are you going to answer the Judiciary Committee report?

THE PRESIDENT: In the first place, I haven't read it. I am taking it down with about ten or twelve other reports to read on Sunday. In the second place, the only thing I am hoping to get is a vote; the sooner the better. The country wants it too.

Q. Do you expect to get any sugar legislation? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Is that a related question?

Q. There is something back of it.

THE PRESIDENT: From all I hear on sugar legislation, I don't think there will be any legislation until these lobbies get out of town. I think Congress might find it perfectly possible to pass sugar legislation then. It is the most pernicious of all lobbies since any of you people in the room have been alive. As soon as they remove themselves from the scene there will be some hope.

Q. Do you have any hope of getting them out of town?

THE PRESIDENT: I wish they would go.

Q. Can you identify those lobbies?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you know them better than I do.

Q. There are so many angles.

Q. Mr. President, what is their line of operation?

THE PRESIDENT: They are being pernicious. . . .

Q. Any action contemplated in the steel strike—by you?

THE PRESIDENT: I think there is action going on all the time.

Q. Oh, there is plenty of action.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course, we are all hopeful that it is going to straighten out.

Q. You have not received word from there asking you to—

THE PRESIDENT: I asked Miss Perkins if there was any news at all when she left here about a half hour ago and she said there was none. However, she is in touch.

Q. Have you any comment to make regarding the charges by the Republic Steel Corporation that the Post Office Department has permitted steel strikers—


Q. Would you care to comment on the discussion that the refusal of the Republic Steel Corporation to sign the contract is a violation of the labor law?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know enough to be able to answer categorically, except one very simple fact quite outside of the language of the law. I think common sense dictates that if a fellow is willing to make an agreement verbally, why shouldn't he put his name to it? Now, that is just plain common sense and not a law. . . .

Q. You remarked just now that what you most wanted in the matter of the Court was a vote.


Q. Can you say whether it would be a vote on the original bill or the modified bill?

THE PRESIDENT: A vote in the Senate. In other words, not a filibuster. I don't think the country wants a filibuster. I think it wants a vote.

Q. The national debt is destined to go above the thirty-six billion dollar mark before the end of the fiscal year or by the end of the fiscal year. Do you believe that that will be the peak and that the leveling off process ought to go on after that?

THE PRESIDENT: It ought to. You are talking about the gross debt and not the net debt?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT; Be sure you use the word "gross" in front of the word "debt." They are very different things.

Q. Can you give us anything about the Byrnes Amendment insisting that cities pay forty percent of W.P.A. projects?

THE PRESIDENT: I can undertake to give you a little background on it, if you want. It is background that relates to two phases. The first is the fact that no two communities are in the same position, either as to their need for relief or the ability to provide relief. Each is a case by itself. A rule of thumb for forty percent might work all right in perhaps the majority of cases. But, if it is made a hard and fast rule, there are going to be a great many cases where hardship will result.

The other phase is the method proposed for avoiding the hardship. We can say to such community or State, "If you will take the pauper's oath and come down to Washington, the President of the United States is hereby constituted a Moody's Manual." You all know what Moody's Manual is, only the President has to do something that Moody's Manual does not do. Moody's Manual is a credit rating. The President, under this proposal, is asked not to give information but to find facts. Now, you cannot find facts about any community. Whatever is found is a matter of opinion. Necessarily, the President, under this proposal, is asked to appoint a commission or an inspector or an investigator to give him an opinion as to whether the community ought to have a higher city tax or a county tax or whether the community is really unable to provide the forty percent.

It seems to me that that is pretty tough, not only on the President, but on the communities of the United States. I think it asks the Federal Government to make findings of fact about local governments which never were contemplated either by the Constitution or by any history of the past.

I don't want to be put in a position of having to say that Community A is sufficiently solvent to increase its taxes and that I hereby suggest to the Mayor and Common Council that they should increase the taxes; or to say that Community. B is busted and that I hereby give them a certificate of bankruptcy, of pauperism. It just isn't done.

Q. Do you favor the proposal of Senators Hatch and Murray for a Commission to be appointed to investigate the whole relief problem, with the idea of drafting a permanent program for relief?

THE PRESIDENT: I would just as soon see a program like that go through. As a matter of fact, whether or not the program does go through, there will be a report along that line anyway. For example, that was the subject of our discussion this afternoon.

We were trying to get to a point where we could see the forest and not the trees. In other words, relief is a very small component part of a much bigger question in the United States. We were analyzing today, and will continue to do so, the needs of the nation. We were doing it from a good many different angles. We were taking up, for example, the number of families in this country in different areas-city, suburban, farm, north and south and west—where the family income is such that the standard of living is so far below any decent standard that we ought to do something about it. The figures are pretty appalling; and my statement, made on several occasions, about one-third of the population being ill-housed, ill-nourished and ill-clad, is apparently substantiated.

When one-third of the nation hasn't got any buying power, it ought to be to the interest of every business man to try to help that one-third of the country to get buying power. It is going to increase the wealth of the country if we can get that buying power for them.

Now, as to unemployment relief, whether it be for those who cannot work—the unemployables—or for the employables, the more we attack the basic problem of getting a better standard of living for the one-third at the bottom, the quicker we shall get rid of relief. It will even bite into the problem of the care of the unemployable because there will be some member of the family who will be able to take care of him.

It goes into all kinds of relief questions and that is why I say we have been looking at the whole situation. Incidentally, as far as we have gone, the picture shows that we should continue along our big, broad, national plan—and I am talking to you perfectly frankly about what we are driving at and the great majority of you in the room will be able to understand; there are very few of you who won't understand and a few who don't want to understand, but the great majority will be able to and want to. What we are trying to do is to build up national income with special reference to increasing the share of the national income of that lowest one-third; otherwise we shall always have them with us and always have relief with us. If we can increase the share of the national income of this one-third, while at the same time increasing the total of the national income, we can automatically balance the Federal budget. This whole thing can be done, as far as we can see at the present time, with a tax standard- I don't mean the individual forms of taxation but a tax standard—which will bring in substantially the same number of dollars in relation to the national income as it brings in at the present time. It means not only a balanced budget, it means taking care of and improving the lot of this lowest one-third. It also means, in all probability, a sufficient balance in the national Treasury to start paying down on the debt.

The whole thing proves up. It is not just guesswork. I think probably some time this summer or this fall, I shall make a fireside talk or talk to you people about some more of the details of this objective, but it is going along very well.

Q. With whom, sir, are you discussing this matter?

THE PRESIDENT: With this study group that I have in from time to time. The list is out in the Press Room and the names differ with the subjects that we discuss. We have talked about agriculture, relief and quite a number of other subjects.

Q. The estimate for 1937 national income is somewhere about seventy billion dollars based on the sixty-three billion dollars of this year. Do you set any goal that would take care of this one-third? Is it a hundred billion?

THE PRESIDENT: There you go; it is very difficult to put it that way. In other words, if we set a goal for a hundred billion and we fall short on it, we are going to be called crazy for taking that figure and not meeting it. In other words, in effect, what we are doing is working on the assumption that the general national program is going to continue and that, if it continues, national income as a whole will not fall off. Now, it may go up at the rate of ten percent a year, or it may go up at the rate of two percent a year but in any case we shall be able to reach the desired result-in one case more quickly, if it is ten percent and in the other case more slowly if it is two percent.

Q. Have these studies reached a point where any additional Federal action may be needed? You talk of continuing the general national program as it is now?

THE PRESIDENT: No; no new action in the sense of taking a line that has not been taken before. The only new action would be in the sense of amending what we have already started. Well, just to take a simple illustration: Dependent children. Query: Is the present rate of ten dollars a month high enough? Now, we might want to add to that. Then, the question of the wages and hours bill and child labor. . . . Now, of course, that is not new legislation because it carries out a principle and policy that was started in 1933. It got kicked in the eye and now we are reviving it. There are all sorts of factors. . . .

The matter of expenditures for relief, for example, is intimately tied up with the operation of the unemployment insurance act. It is actually tied up with it. It is intimately tied up with the problem of old age security. For instance, some of the figures today show that four percent—oh, this is rough—four percent of the population a few years ago, in 1929, were over sixty-five; today over five percent are over sixty-five. In a very few years, eight percent will be over sixty-five, and if the present mortality tables continue to show up as favorably as they are doing, in the same proportion, before most of us are dead, there will be fifteen percent of the population over sixty-five years old. Now, all of that is very, very helpful on the problem of taking care of the older people who cannot get work through an insurance plan, an insurance plan that pays for itself.

Q. Does the same thing apply to re-employment? Are you speaking of that as applying to unemployment insurance and social security, tying that in with relief also?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. For instance, the figures today show that we have very, very definite knowledge of certain things. The Employment Service has six million people, without duplication, on its rolls. They are people who are looking for jobs. That is a perfectly definite figure. Now, the total number of people on relief in the United States, that is to say Federal, State and local, has gone down in the past year from five million one or two hundred thousand to three million seven hundred thousand. That includes all the unemployables. We have all of those figures. We know all of those facts. . . .

Q. May I get one point clear? There seems to be a drag on our economic system by reason of the fact that one-third of the population is down.


Q. And if the plan formulated by you and your study group is effective, there will be an increase of income in that group of people so that they will no longer be a drag and everybody is happy.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, and in the budget.

Q. Wouldn't that require a general overhauling of the Federal tax picture?


Q. You mentioned a tax standard as being required by which that was to be accomplished.

THE PRESIDENT: What I meant by the tax standard was that on a given amount of national income—well, say we have sixty-three billion dollars this year of national income and on present taxes we bring into the Federal Treasury six billion dollars. I am not talking about the details. If we have ninety billion dollars we bring in nine billion dollars. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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