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Letter to Committee Chairmen on the Defense Production Bill.

August 01, 1950

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I am writing you in response to your request for my views on the expressed desire of various Members of the Senate (House) to add to the Defense Production Bill (S. 3936) some kind of authority for direct controls over wages, prices and the distribution of goods to consumers.

It is urgently necessary that the Congress act on the Defense Production Bill without delay. If this measure is enacted promptly, we can do a great deal to ease the economic adjustments which our defense effort will require. At the same time, we can continue, on an expedited but careful basis, our planning and preparation for other economic controls, if and when needed.

Of course, there is no objection, in these circumstances, to enactment of additional stand-by control powers which the President could invoke when the need arose. Before my message of July nineteenth, I gave careful thought to the desirability of asking at once for stand-by authority to control prices and wages, and to ration at the consumer level. I refrained from making this proposal to the Congress because it seemed more important to obtain quick action on the powers contained in the Defense Production Bill. To have included a request for stand-by controls might, it seems to me, have dangerously delayed enactment of the immediate program, while the Congress considered these broader authorities. My recommendations of July nineteenth, were designed to meet the problems immediately before us.

The Congress, in its judgment, may now want to make price, wage and rationing controls available, on a stand-by basis, for use if and when needed. But if the Congress were to take this course, the following conditions appear essential.

First. These additional controls should be supplementary to, and not in lieu of, the basic powers already contained in the Defense Production Bill. The production aids and limited controls for which I have asked are essential now.

Second. We cannot afford to bog down or delay in enacting what is needed at once, and supplementary provisions should be added only if they do not prolong consideration or delay action in either House.

Third. Any provisions relating to prices and wages should not set up a rigid formula or freeze in advance of experience. If these powers are now made available in advance of widespread need, it is simple common sense that they must be written in a form which allows wide discretion and flexibility as to the method and place and timing of application.

Fourth. For the same reason, any grant of price and wage authority should leave open the question of the method of administration. This should remain flexible, because it cannot be separated from the question of the extent to which price and wage controls actually might have to be applied.

If these reasonable conditions can be met, I should have no objection to the granting of authority beyond that requested in my message of July nineteenth. But if, for any reason, these conditions cannot be met, I urge strongly that the Congress move at once to enact the Defense Production Bill without including these additional powers.

Very sincerely yours,

HARRY S. TRUMAN

Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Burnet R. Maybank, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, and to the Honorable Brent Spence, Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency.

On September 8, 1950, the President approved the Defense Production Act of 1950 (64 Stat. 798).

Harry S. Truman, Letter to Committee Chairmen on the Defense Production Bill. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231064

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