Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

May 17, 1940

THE PRESIDENT: I am not going away—not going to Hyde Park this week end. Obviously, the trip to dedicate everything in the world (Laughter) is probably off. I guess that is about all.

Q. Means no western trip, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: I doubt it very much. I probably shall be able, sometime during the summer, of course unless things clear up, to go down overnight and dedicate the Great Smoky Park, but that would be all. . . .

Q. Can you give us some light on what you will probably do with the hundred million dollars that you have requested in the bill?

THE PRESIDENT: As I said before, probably the bulk will go to the increase of production for planes and for anti-aircraft guns and for ammunition to go with them, over and above the amounts that are carried in the other appropriations. Then, of course, it should be perfectly obvious that there are a great many things that you cannot foresee at the present time and put down in a line item.

Well, I will give you an illustration: This particular thing happens to be up today, but suppose, for the sake of argument, it had not come up until after Congress had adjourned-there would be no money to carry it out. It is under discussion at the present time to commission the old destroyers, thirty-five of the old World-War destroyers, which are still out of commission; all the rest of them have been put into commission. Some of the thirty-five, maybe all of them, may, for national defense reasons, have to be commissioned. Of course it costs a good deal of money to put a ship that has been out of commission a great many years, especially a Priority III ship which is a ship that has been longest out of commission, into full commission. Now, as I say, it so happens that this is coming up at the present time while Congress is here, but suppose the question, the problem, had not come up until after Congress had adjourned? I would not want to call Congress back to give me six million dollars to put these thirty-five destroyers into full commission. I ought to have some leeway to do a thing of that kind.

I will give you another example that may come up: There may be some orders for machine tools later on this summer which have been placed by other citizens of other nations, private orders, with American manufacturers. Later on this summer it may be advisable, because of a bottleneck on machine tools, for us to say to the manufacturers, "We want to buy those. We are awfully sorry, but we need them for national defense purposes." And the manufacturers would turn them over to us because there are, on practically all orders of that kind, clauses in the contract which would allow the manufacturers to sell to the Government for the same price you would get from the foreign order. Now, things of that kind may come up during the summer.

Furthermore—I am going back to the question of planes and anti-aircraft guns and ammunition—we are working at the present time on several different types of methods, by which additional facilities, plants and machine tools will be paid for. We hope that private capital will put up as much as possible; and they may be able to get the RFC to help finance new plants. But still, over and above that, there may be some need of some cash, and the hundred million dollars ought to be available to make the wheels turn to get things done for increased production of all kinds and for items such as I have mentioned: putting out-of-commission destroyers into commission, buying machine tools that are on foreign orders, things of that kind. No human being can anticipate all of those items ahead of time. There will be new situations which will have to be met.

Q. Mr. President, is this comparable to the 150 million dollars that President Woodrow Wilson got in 1917 and 1918 and which was a purely discretionary amount, as I understand it?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so, Pete [Mr. Brandt]; I think so. . . .

Q. Mr. President, someone in Congress spoke of these two items as "blank check" items. There was another in there of 186 million dollars—

THE PRESIDENT [interposing]: That is the authorization.

Q. Has that the same explanation?

THE PRESIDENT: The same, yes. The difference between the appropriation and the authorization is the authorization allows one to make obligations for which there would be no money paid out of the Treasury until later on.

Q. I understand that, sir, but I think the previous question was the hundred million dollars.

THE PRESIDENT: That was appropriation.

Q. And, Mr. President, part of it goes to train airplane pilots?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, if necessary; if the other part, the line item, is not enough, we shall be able to use part of the hundred million dollars to train additional pilots.

Q. Can you give us any idea of how you plan to handle the expansion of airplane production facilities? Will that be done by the Government building standby plants?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have been getting that all—oh, I suppose there is, we might say, a constant conference going on with the manufacturers at the present time.

Q. Mr. President, in meeting the productivity needs of all defense materials, et cetera, is it your thought to use a part of this money to build Government owned and operated plants or merely—

THE PRESIDENT [interposing]: No Government operated plants.

Q. Government owned but not Government operated?

THE PRESIDENT: Maybe; in other words, that is a question to betaken up with the people.

Q. With whom?

THE PRESIDENT: With the manufacturers. In some cases they would rather not put their own money up; they would rather not borrow the money from the Government and take the title to the plant. In some cases they would rather the Government kept the title and they run it.

Q. Would you consider expanding the Youth Administration work experience school as a feeder for the workmen we are going to need for this program? Where are we going to get the workmen?

THE PRESIDENT: We have got to do a lot of training of workmen through all kinds of methods—half a dozen different methods—the NYA among them.

Q. [Mr. Godwin] There seems to be a suspicion that the entire program, the two billion dollars, the regular appropriation and this extra national defense, is too much for the present machinery of the country and that it cannot digest the thing without something very drastic in the way of expansion. I think you know what I am talking about. Can you explain that or is it worth while explaining?

THE PRESIDENT: I suppose, Earl [Mr. Godwin]— I think I know what you mean. If people say that we cannot do this, they might just as well not do it at all and we might just as well not have any defense because- suppose there were a definite, concrete, immediate threat of attack on us: We would probably have to expand infinitely more than this program. Now, if we cannot do this program of a billion dollars more in time of peace, obviously we could not do a five billion dollar program in the face of a concrete, immediate threat.

And anybody that says that, might just as well advocate no national defense at all on the grounds that the country could not handle it—it would be too big.

Q. Mr. President, in that connection the oil industry is quite concerned over what will be expected of them in providing aviation gasoline because present productive capacity is not capable of producing what will be required by these 50,000 planes you have proposed, and the subsequent air fleet. Have you any plans along that line at this time?

THE PRESIDENT: That is one of the things that is under study. I should doubt very much if the program should be stopped on the assumption that we could not provide the gasoline. I think we can provide gasoline.

Q. Are you going to accumulate stock piles of aviation gasoline?

THE PRESIDENT: That is a thing they are studying at the present time. I can tell you this, the preliminary study shows that we do need more standby cracking capacity— I think that is what they call it—but that we do not need very much more storage.

Q. You do not need much more storage?

THE PRESIDENT: No, probably not, but more cracking facilities.

Q. Do your plans contemplate protection for those refineries on the Coast, which produce this, and where one bomb would dislocate production of a lot of aviation gasoline?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, obviously.

Q. You would?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, just like all sorts of other critical points.

Q. There is considerable discussion of the bottleneck in the Navy Department and the War Department, discussion of the fact that there will be a distinct shortage of skilled labor which would be needed in this kind of program, and there has been some discussion of the 40-hour and 32-hour week at the Navy Yard, et cetera, which are handicapped because you haven't a second shift of skilled labor to put on?

THE PRESIDENT: We do need a lot more skilled labor. Just as I said before, we have got to develop and train more skilled labor and there will be some kind of recommendation on it to the Congress.

Q. Any prospect of suspending the 40-hour week?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not know, but we probably need some legislation. . . . I suppose the easiest way to put it is just increased production, because that covers all kinds of things. What have you in mind?

Q. Is the meeting going on now, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I suppose so. There are two or three of them—three or four of them.

Q. Most of the airplane manufacturing plants at present are located on one or the other seacoast—

THE PRESIDENT [interposing]: Yes, that is one of the things, a very important matter, that is being discussed at the present time. If you were a manufacturer or I were a manufacturer, obviously I would prefer to add to my existing plant, if I had the acreage to put it on, because I would have everything right together. In other words, from my point of view as a manager of a plant, I would rather have it all together. But the Government says to me, "H-m-m-m, we doubt very much whether you ought to put more production close to either seaboard and therefore we would much prefer to have you go out somewhere between the Alleghenies and the Rockies." Well, it is human nature that they should say, "No, I'd rather stay right here and add to my plant right here." So, one of the things we are going to do as much as we can on new production is to put it between mountains. . . .

Q. In asking for this defense program, do you want that to take precedence over the relief bill which is now pending?

THE PRESIDENT: Of course relief has got to go through just as soon as it possibly can, because we are approaching the first of July; and while I am not familiar with all the provisions of the bill or the minority report in the House, I think there are certain principles that ought to be made perfectly clear. I do not think the country can afford to cut more people off relief this summer or next fall. We are taking care of only a percentage—by no means a hundred per cent—of needy families. We are just not doing it-we are not giving them work. Personally, I should like to see the amount increased so that we could take care of all needy families. For anyone to say that by earmarking relief it will give just as much employment as the present methods, does not hold water, because it is not true. In other words, the Public Works' process of providing jobs does not provide nearly as many jobs for the actual individual families on relief as the WPA does.

We have—I should like the people to think about it in this way—oh, let us call it, what?—a million, eight hundred thousand people, depending on what period of the year we are taking. It may be a million, five hundred thousand, or it may be two million. This is not just a figure. It represents individual people with names. Every one of those people has a name, lives in a particular place, is working at the present time on a definite project, and is getting so much a month for working. All right. Now, if, in place of that, the Congress says, "A hundred miles away we are going to put in an earmarked project to construct a new dam or a new schoolhouse or something of that kind." In the original place, there are a hundred people on relief. Do you suppose they will all be employed on that project? Of course not.

No. 2, on earmarked projects, the PWA method, a very much larger proportion of money out of the Treasury goes to materials which come from the mines and the forests and the brickyards and the cement works and the steel factories. Automatically, for the same amount of money, it decreases the present number on the list of human beings who are engaged on local WPA projects. The net result is that if you earmark or if you curtail the present scale of relief, you are going to have a very large number of people, with names, who live in a given place, and who are in need, thrown out of work.

Well, in exactly the same way this defense program will put people to work, of course. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that it gives a lot more employment in the steel towns: how does that take care of the people on relief in Watertown, New York? Or in Manchester, Georgia? Of course, it does not. It will increase employment, yes, but it does not mean that these people with individual families and individual names, in certain individual localities are going to be given work because we are spending more money on defense. Yes, it is going to give work, a great deal more work; but it is not going to handle all of those people on WPA any more than earmarking is going to do it.

Also, there is another great danger. I don't mind pointing out that if the Congress starts to earmark money that goes for relief, you are going to make the relief legislation merely another pork barrel. Everybody is going to try to get a project for his district. Every little group is going to try to get something for itself. The Association of General Contractors. is going to get just as many earmarked projects out of that bill as it possibly can. Why? Because it is just like most people, including ourselves. It is selfish. It wants more jobs for the contractors. But a contracted job does not take care of these individual people, individual families and individual localities who, today, are in need. It throws them off. So there you are. . . .

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

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