Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Letter to the Labor Committee on the Wages and Hours Bill.

April 30, 1938

Hon. Mary T. Norton,

Chairman, Labor Committee,

House of Representatives,

Washington, D. C.

Your letter telling me that as a result of the action of eight members of the Rules Committee a wage and hour bill has again been prevented from reaching the floor of the House was given to me last night just as I took the train.

I want to make it wholly clear that the rules under which the House of Representatives acts are properly not the concern of the Executive Branch of the Government—nor have I any right whatsoever as President to criticize the rules.

Nevertheless, because you and I are old friends and because I myself have been a member of a legislative body, I feel free to give you my personal view of a difficult situation which has arisen because of yesterday's action and the similar preceding action of the Rules Committee several months ago.

Because of my personal experience, both in legislative and executive capacities, I have a profound respect for and devotion to the democratic legislative process. The continuing fairness of that legislative process is the foundation of enduring democracy.

It must always be the right of a legislative body to reject a bill if it is not satisfactory to a majority of its members. And it is equally the right of a legislative body, through committees, to sift out the hundreds of bills which are introduced each year, to hold hearings on them, and to produce orderly calendars for the consideration of the whole membership. That is the democratic process.

There are, however, certain types of measures in each session which are of undoubted national importance because they relate to major policies of government and affect the lives of millions of people.

It has always seemed to me that in the case of these measures-few in number in any one session—the whole membership of the legislative body should be given full and free opportunity to discuss them. This discussion may end in drastic amendment, or in recommital, or even in complete rejection.

In the case of wage and hour legislation, the majority party of the House is committed to legislation by its national platform-and I have no personal doubt that a large majority of the membership of the House believes that the House as a whole should pass its judgment on such legislation.

You have the situation, however, where a bill was held up by a majority vote of a small committee, was then reported by the petition system, was debated and recommitted to the Labor Committee for further consideration.

A new bill has been reported by the Labor Committee. I do not pass judgment on its merits or demerits. The fact remains that the subject should once more be properly before the House.

The Rules Committee, by a narrow vote, has declined to grant a rule and the full membership of the House- four hundred and thirty-five members—is thereby prevented from discussing, amending, recommitting, defeating or passing some kind of a bill to put a floor under wages and a ceiling over hours.

I still hope that the House as a whole can vote on a wage and hour bill—either by reconsideration of its action by the Rules Committee itself or by the petition route.

As I have suggested before, I hope that the democratic processes of legislation will continue. That is my personal view.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to the Labor Committee on the Wages and Hours Bill. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209678

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