Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 01, 1939

Q. Mr. President, good morning. How are you?

THE PRESIDENT: Russ [Mr. Young], how is the infant coming along?

Q. [Mr. Young] Very well indeed. What about the big seventy pound fish you did not catch?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Did you notice the newspaper accuracy on it?

Q. [Mr. Godwin] There has been a good deal of faking on that since Jonah's whale.

Q. Pa [General Watson] says that he has got fifty dollars that says he caught the biggest fish. Is that right?

THE PRESIDENT: Pa always catches the biggest fish. No. As a matter of fact, I caught far and away the best fish on the trip. I never saw one before. It was a ten-inch mackerel. I had him for breakfast and it was the most delicious fish I ever ate.

Q. How did you know it was a mackerel?

THE PRESIDENT: It had all the fins.

Q. How big are they ordinarily?

THE PRESIDENT: Three feet; two or three feet.

Q. Hadn't you ought to have thrown him back?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know if there is any law on that but any-way it is inside of me now, so it is safe. Gosh, it was good. It was the most delicious I ever tasted.

Q. Mr. President, I caught a ten-inch trout.

THE PRESIDENT: But this mackerel was better than any trout I ever tasted.

Q. It was that long and that round (indicating); like an eel.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you mean sea trout. They are all right if you eat them within an hour, otherwise they get soft.

Q. Yes. We cut them up and salt them in brine.

Q. [Mr. Young] A big gate today.

THE PRESIDENT: Did you ever try baking a fish in mud? It is the most delicious thing in the world. It is all solid and then you crack it open. You use nice good, clean clay.

Q. Is that so?

THE PRESIDENT: We have answered all the questions in the front row while you were all coming in in the back row.

Q. Did you hear about the House vote on the lending bill?

THE PRESIDENT: I did. I have not had an analysis on it yet.

Q. Any comment on it?

THE PRESIDENT: How did it line up?

Q. 193 to 166 refusal to help the rule. There were 147 Democrats, the count showed, joining the Republicans.

THE PRESIDENT: Practically a solid Republican vote?

Q. Yes; very few opposed, one or two.

THE PRESIDENT: I think this, by way of comment: We have to look at the results if we do not get legislation at this session. If we had been able to start the lending program, the effect of it would have been felt by industry within from sixty to ninety days. In other words, orders would have begun to flow in to industrial plants. That would have put people to work and, almost automatically, a certain proportion of those people put to work would have been taken off the relief rolls, thereby accomplishing the fact of reducing Government expenditures for relief, thereby reducing taxes to the average taxpayer and, at the same time, giving employment without permanent cost to the Government or to the taxpayers.

So, the net result is, from that point of view, that the failure of the bill is automatically going to cost the taxpayers of the United States quite a lot of money, a good many hundreds of millions of dollars and, at the same time, will mean that a large number of industrial plants will not have their production stepped up in the same way as if the bill had gone through. There will be more people who will have to be taken care of on relief than if the bill had gone through. That is perfectly obvious. Of course, the people who were responsible for the failure to adopt the rule have an absolute right to make that determination, so there can be no possible criticism of the action of Congress; except that there is an absolute right on the part of the taxpayers of the country and the people on relief in the country and the industrial plants of the country to know exactly where the responsibility lies and, of course, an equal right to ask the names of the people or parties who voted against the rule.

Now, of course that can all be reduced, very simply, to figures. I have not had any chance to have the thing reduced to figures of dollars or of human beings, but it is a very simple thing to figure out how many dollars would have gone out, let us say within a year, under the lending bill if it had gone through. From past experience, we know how many people, very definitely, how many people are put to work for every dollar spent on public improvements of various kinds. So, if you figure the number of dollars that would have been spent within a year on public works by the lending method, you will be able to find out the number of people who would have been put to work under that program within a year, and, per contra, you can see how many people will fail to get work through the failure of the bill.

And then, we also know, in spending public money, what proportion of people on public works are drawn from relief rolls and it means that those people have to be taken care of on relief, as they are at the present time, rather than removed from the relief rolls.

That is about the long and short of it.

Q. Do you recall what those figures are, by any chance?


Q. On that tax, can you elaborate? Can it be interpreted that this new tax bill will call for higher taxes on the public to meet the situation?


Q. What did you mean when you said it called for higher taxes and more taxes?

THE PRESIDENT: Because every man that we take care of on the relief rolls costs the people some taxes, does he not?

Q. I thought you meant additional taxes.


Q. You did not recall those dollars and the people—the proportion. Does this refresh your memory at all? I may be wrong about it, but for every man on the Public Works payroll, Secretary Ickes used to say there were three or three a half men behind the line. Does that bring anything up?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. That was the figure that was used on all P.W.A. estimates and checked back after the actual work was done, and that was the figure—about three and a half people are put to work behind the lines for every person that is put to work on the job itself.

Q. Would that apply?

THE PRESIDENT: That would apply in this case; the same thing.

Q. But you do not know how many dollars it took to put one man to work on P.W.A.? You do not recall?


Q. Have you any plans to meet the situation while Congress is still in session.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think there is anything to be done.

Q. Will you ask for a larger relief appropriation?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Congress has determined that already.

Q. Is it a fair guess that this matter will come up at the next session to be urged by you, sir, at the next session?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not know, Fred [Mr. Essary]. I only got to that point. I only heard about it about an hour and a half ago. I do not think that fast.

Q. There was also talk at the Capitol that the $800,000,000 housing bill will go down also, as a result of this same Congressional attitude?

THE PRESIDENT: As you know, also on the housing proposition, one of the principal objectives was to begin slum clearance in a great many of the smaller cities of the country.

The first lot of projects that were put into effect last year have related, you might say, to the most important and crying needs of the larger cities in the country. We are now getting down to the point of being able to make a dent in the slum conditions in many of the smaller cities, so that it would affect pretty nearly every state of the Union in the course of the coming year, and that, of course, would mean putting a great many people to work.

Q. That is not yet killed?

THE PRESIDENT: No, but, as I say, if it is killed also, a great many people would lose a chance for a job which they otherwise would have had.

Q. There is a housing program that has not yet run out of money. Isn't that so?

THE PRESIDENT: That is perfectly true but, as you know, there are applications in that will more than take care of all that money, and it takes quite a while after an application first comes in to get the plans and everything all through; and there is not, actually, enough money still available to meet all the applications that are already in.

Q. Going back to those figures once more, did you determine, even in round numbers, how much employment you figured your lending program would give?

THE PRESIDENT: No, because that involves my knowing how many people or how many dollars are necessary to put an individual workman to work on a project and I do not remember the figure.

Q. Senator Barkley said in his report to the Banking and Currency Committee that it would create 500,000 new jobs.

THE PRESIDENT: If he said that, it is probably correct. Senator Barkley would not have made the statement unless he had pretty good authority.

Q. We understood that to be the first-line jobs and not those behind the lines.


Q. Mr. Jones said there was $1,300,000,000 of lending authority in the R.F.C., and as I read your program, it only called for $700,000,000 expenditure during the next year. Couldn't this be very easily taken care of by a little change in the authority of lending? That is, couldn't the three billion—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] That is essentially what this bill did. It was just to take care of these "litty-bitty" things that would make those existing funds available.

Q. But it did not sound "litty-bitty" the way you put it out. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. You know you can accomplish a lot sometimes with just a few words and it does sound fairly important when a "litty-bitty" change will put five hundred thousand people to work in the front lines. Isn't that right? That is something to think about.

Q. Of course they contended, up on the Hill, that most of these things the R.F.C. could do now and that they had the three billions.

THE PRESIDENT: And the R.F.C. would do them now if they had a "litty-bitty" change, and that is what we were asking for in this bill.

Q. One of the criticisms raised was that you were trying to circumvent the $45,000,000,000 constitutional—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] Now, let me ask you a question, a very simple question: Suppose there is a bank that has a million dollars of deposits in your home town, which is a good average small town bank. It has a million of deposits. Of course that is a direct debt from that bank to the people who put money into it. It is a direct debt. Would it be fair to you to get up in the Congress, or on the stump, or write an editorial and say, "We wish to call your attention to the fact that the First National Bank of this town has a debt of $1,000,000. We wish to call your attention to the fact that this is a tremendous sum for the First National Bank to owe." And then you end your editorial or speech on that note. Would that be fair?

And yet, that is what every one of these people are saying. Now, of course it would be fair if you said, "Yes, it owes a million dollars but it has assets for that million dollars and more besides because it has all of its paid-up capital in addition to that million dollars, which stands behind the debt of the million to the depositors." Therefore is it a fair proposition to say that, when the Government borrows money and then lends that money out—in other words, it is doing just exactly what the First National Bank of Squeedunk is doing—the Government is that much indebted? Is that any different case from the case of the First National Bank? Isn't it fair to say that the Government has received for its million dollars which it has borrowed and then loaned, certain security, certain assets, certain promises to pay, just like when the bank buys the mortgage of the farmer, takes a mortgage on his farm and lends him the money?

The Government, in this case, puts the money out on good security, a straight credit basis.

If you read the Congressional Record for the spring of 1934, you will find speech after speech in the Senate and the House by the Republicans and by a few Democrats, stating that all this business of Jesse Jones lending out this money was all "bunk"—that we would never get the money back, that we would be lucky if we ever got fifty per cent of the money back. Read it in the Congressional Record.

And the Director of the Budget at that time came in with a long face, day after day, and said, "Mr. President, you should not accept Jesse Jones's statement that he is going to get back practically all of the money that he has been lending out." He said, "You will be everlastingly lucky if Jesse Jones gets back half the money he ever lends out." He pulled a long face so often, that I was afraid he was not in sympathy with what we were doing; and he got out. (Laughter)

And of course the record shows that he was wrong and that these people in the House and Senate were wrong, because Jesse Jones has got it nearly all back. Now, there is the record and they are pulling the same old line at the present time. They are saying, "This lending money, you will never get it back." The same crowd is saying it that said it in 1934. There is nothing new in this world. It is all the same idea.

Q. Would you like to say a few words in commemoration of the historical significance of tomorrow? Tomorrow will be the twelfth anniversary of the statement of former President Coolidge that he did not choose to run. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Are you suggesting that I should take my summer holiday in the Black Hills? (Laughter)

Q. No, sir; I merely wanted a few words in commemoration.

THE PRESIDENT: I think, on my summer holiday I am going to be away, off at sea, and I am going to take three gentlemen of the Press, from the Press Associations, who will follow me on a destroyer. I hope for their sake it will be a smooth sea. Everything that they send in from the destroyer, you see, has to go through me. (Laughter) So you will get duly censored news all the time I am away. That is the only case where we have censorship of the Press. Then, when they get sick, I shall have to write their stories for them, so that will be that much worse.

Q. There is a bill in the Senate, a measure that extends the life of the civil liberties measure. It is jammed up somewhere. Do you know about that?

THE PRESIDENT: I have said it before and I want to make it just as strong as I possibly can, that I hope that amount will be given by the Senate to extend the work of that Civil Liberties Committee.

As I understand it, they thought a year ago, a year ago last spring, just before the session ended, that if they got the final $50,000, it would complete their work. But, as the investigation went on last fall, they uncovered a great many new things that they believed were violations of certain civil liberties, and they believed that those new things ought to be investigated; but Senator La Follette felt that, having given his word that that final $50,000 would be the final $50,000, he felt that he ought not to ask for any more. He made a statement on the floor that that was the only reason he had not asked for it, but he and his colleagues actually felt and stated that they ought to have it to look into those new things that they had uncovered. So I hope very much, for the sake of civil liberties in this country, that the allocation of money will be given to them. . . .

Q. Have you made up your mind what you are going to do about the Hatch Bill?


Q. Would you care to tell us?

THE PRESIDENT: No. (Laughter)

Q. Would you care to tell us—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] I think you will get something tomorrow.

Q. On civil liberties, did I understand that only the Press Associations are going with you on your northern trip?

THE PRESIDENT: That is all, Russ [Young].

Q. just for the record, that is all. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Why don't you get hired by the Press Association for the occasion?

Q. No, thanks.

Q. Will Senator Hatch have any desire to have that pen as a souvenir? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: That is not even subtle. (Laughter) . . .

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

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