Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

February 16, 1943

Q. How did you survive? [Referring to the dinner at the White House Correspondents' Association's smoker, a few days before]

THE PRESIDENT: Fine. A very sober dinner. (Laughter)Q. (aside) Where?

Q. Disappointingly so?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, not in wartime.

Bill [Hassett, Assistant Press Secretary], what have you got?

MR. HASSETT: I don't know a thing.


MR. HASSETT: I regret I haven't got a thing.


THE PRESIDENT: Can't you think something up?

MR. HASSETT: I would have to go and collect it pretty quick. Does it necessarily need to be true?

THE PRESIDENT: This fellow Hassett isn't any good. He says he can't think anything up. (Laughter)

(Then to Mr. Godwin,): You look extremely quiet today.

(Then to May Craig): What are you thinking, May? (Laughter)

MISS MAY CRAIG: I couldn't tell you.

THE PRESIDENT: Starting something?


MR. MERRIMAN SMITH: (loudly, and a little unrestrained) Mr. President, we have been asking—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Now—now—now—(with mock gesture's of straightening out his coat) (Much laughter)

MR. MERRIMAN SMITH: (continuing)—we have been asking Bill Hassett for two days now about Marshal [Semyon K.] Timoshenko. Can you help us?

THE PRESIDENT: Ask Mona Lisa! (Laughter)

[Mr. Hassett, the previous day, in answering this same question, had said he had checked with the President and got nothing but a Mona Lisa smile.]

Q. Where is she? (More laughter)

Q. Is she one of the "sweet young things"?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes—one of the "sweet young things."

MR. GODWIN: Working for O.W.I. [Office of War Information],Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: (turning to Mr. Elmer Davis, O.W.I. head) How about that, Elmer?

MR. DAVIS: We could use her. (More laughter)

Q. Mr. President, Moscow has just announced the official fall of Kharkov to the Russian troops. Would you care—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Grand. Grand.

Q. (continuing) About a half-hour ago.

THE PRESIDENT: That's fine. They have got two or three strong points now that they have recaptured. And, of course, every strong point that is recaptured, that gets out of the Germans' control as a strong point-a junction point—along that whole line, makes it more difficult for the Germans later on in the spring to undertake any counteroffensive. So, from the point of view of the safety of the Russians against a counteroffensive, I think it has a great deal of significance. Rostov gone—Kharkov—and Kursk.

Q. Mr. President, if they lose the strong point on the line which they are now defending, and they retire to a line shorter than Moscow south, would it still make it more difficult for them to launch an offensive from that new line?

THE PRESIDENT: It depends a little bit. As I understand it, on the southern half of the line, these points that have fallen to the Russian armies, back of them on the west is rather flat country, where it would be difficult for the Germans to conduct an offensive between the present line- the Kharkov line and the next line from the west. . . .

Q. Mr. President, is there anything you can say on prospects on the Hill that there will be some legislative limitation to prevent the $25,000 net limit from operating?

THE PRESIDENT: I think you had better ask Mr. [Robert] Doughton [Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee]. You can intimate to Mr. Doughton that you have got an idea that he got a letter from me today. Maybe he will let you see it.

Q. Today, sir?


Q. Mr. President, have you familiarized yourself with Senator Kenneth McKellar's bill which would take 70,000 Government employees out of civil service and require their confirmation by the Senate?

THE PRESIDENT: Only what I read in the paper.

Q. Well, I figured out that if there was debate in the Senate on one appointment out of a hundred, and they limited the debate to five minutes to each side, which is pretty short for the Senate —

THE PRESIDENT: (interjecting) You are right.

Q. (continuing)—it would take 45 minutes a day for every legislative day for an entire year to pass those one out of a hundred. I would like to ask whether you think the Senate in wartime could be better employed? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I think there's a little line in the Bible that says, "Thou hast said it." (Laughter) That's not a bad idea. I don't think there have been columns written about topics of that kind the way they have about topics affecting the executive branch of the Government. I think you have got a great field of action there—(laughter) especially those of you who have to write those pieces so often a week. I think there's something for you to go after. Good idea.

Q. Could I ask you another question, not as President but as a citizen of New York? You see, the real idea in that is that the two Senators from each State will pass on the appointments from those States- the nominations- and that is proportionate to the population. So the State of New York would get about 7,000 nominations. And if the two Senators from that State took ten minutes apiece to consider them, it would take them six hours per day, six days a week for an entire year to pass on them. (Laughter) Now those are accurate figures, and I would like to ask whether, as a constituent of the two Senators from New York, you approve of that?

THE PRESIDENT: As a taxpayer, I am deeply interested. (Laughter) Got any more? This is good.

Q. That's enough.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, think up some more.

You know, I will tell you what it's like. We all have been working, in the last two or three years, on the same old subject of cutting down on the non-war expenditures of the Government. Well, we are getting down now so that we are talking about 3 1/2 percent of the total expenditures of the United States. And we are going to have pages and pages of the Congressional Record that will talk about the reduction of that 3 1/2 percent to 3.4 percent- pages and pages.

If you would just figure out—make an estimate of how many pages, hours, and minutes are devoted to the discussion of saving one-tenth of one percent— this is perfectly proper—and then figure out the cost in time, salaries of members of Congress, their clerks, their committees, and the printing of the Congressional Record, just see whether actually in saving one-tenth of one percent on the amount of non-war expenditures, it doesn't cost more than the saving itself. That's a nice point. Check up on it.

Well, for instance, things like this: I saw the other day that they voted in committee to abolish the National Resources Planning Board—they have got a perfect right to do it—but they have been engaged in all kinds of postwar planning. Any amount of planning has been done.

Among other things, they have gone into all the details of what we have talked about before as the "backlog," so that when a lot of people leave the munitions factories at the end of the war, and a lot of soldiers come home, they will have some jobs waiting to be done that are peacetime jobs.

Now I suppose most people, because they don't all think things through—most people don't—why should they?—get an idea that all Congress has to do is start making an appropriation for some public works, and that the day after the appropriation is made somebody down here will let the contract for the particular project, and the second day they will begin to hire a lot of people to carry it out.

Well, of course, actually, when Congress makes an appropriation for a given public project, unless it has been all engineered and architected, and the specifications drawn beforehand, necessarily it's just like any private individual building a building. It takes months before you can actually let the contract. And after you have let the contract to the successful bidder, as soon as he knows he is going to do it, it may take him another month or two, or even more, before he gets his materials on the job, before he has hired his people. And there is a big lag.

Well, we found that in 1933 and 1934, when we went in for a program of public works, that it was a long time after a project was decided on by the Congress—and it is the Congress, properly, that decides on the project—before the dirt began to fly and people began to be employed.

The National Resources Planning Board these last few years has been working on problems of that kind, getting them engineered and architected, and specifications all ready, so that if the Congress, when the time comes, decides on the project, we will save months by all this preliminary work at very low proportionate cost getting the thing started.

Well, in the same way, this Planning Board- I know "planning" is not a popular term- has been working on all kinds of things that can't be put through just by legislation. It will take a great deal more than legislation, such as what are we going to do with a great many new communities that we have set up in this country? We put in factories and powder plants, and so forth and so on—munitions plants, we might say, out on the prairies. We have taken a small village and turned it into a great industrial center, in many places. What are we going to do with it at the end of the war? Are we going to try to put something else in it? Are we going to plan what kind of thing should go in it? Or are we going to wait for a directive, after the crisis has developed?

And I am inclined to think that keeping on getting ready for the postwar period is going to save the Nation, I would say, almost several billion dollars in time, in lack of employment, in the uncertainty of employees. Those are all translatable into terms of dollars, first and last.

On the other side, if we wait to do our postwar studying until after there is a postwar period, we are going to lose a great deal of money. Well, the money doesn't come out of the Government, it comes out of the pockets of the people of this country.

And I might put it this way: that in this respect I am in a role that I am not often played up in by some people. I am the great saver of money, the one watchdog on the pockets of the people of this country; and that the spendthrifts, in the last analysis, if we don't plan ahead, are going to be those people in the legislative branch of the Government who vote to end planning.

I don't care how planning is done. They can abolish the National Resources Planning Board, if they set up some other organization to do the work. It is perfectly immaterial as to who does it, as long as it gets done. And that is up to the Congress ....

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

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