Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

May 13, 1959

THE PRESIDENT. This morning I would like to talk for a moment about some very badly needed legislation. I called attention to this in January.

The first of these is to increase the lending authority for the FHA for insuring mortgages. I asked for 6 billion. I think it is needed. And if we don't get action soon, there is going to be a bad situation in the housing field.

Then I asked for legislation that would make it possible to carry forward the highway program. This is a very necessary activity. It is one which now has a great momentum, in which thousands of people are working, and to stop it because of the failure to provide the revenues would, in my opinion, be very bad for our country.

Now, we can't go any faster than the money comes in, for the simple reason that the amendment in the original bill says you must build only according to the amount of money you have to spend during that year.

And the other thing is this problem about wheat. We now have in storage over 2 1/2 times of our yearly consumption of wheat. I think we have something on the order of $3½ billion, or will have by the end of June, at least, $3½ billion invested in this wheat surplus. It is costing a quarter of a billion dollars a year just to store it, take care of it, carrying charges. And the situation gets worse. It isn't just enough to quote the figures of the money we have spent in the past. The fact is that all the money as spent has made the situation worse rather than better.

I am making a request of the Congress to speed up action on these three items, so that the country will not suffer because of inaction.

I think there will be sometime--at noon, after the message has gone to the Congress, you people will have a copy of it.

That is all I have to say.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, how do you size up the Russian tactics so far at the foreign ministers conference, their efforts to seat East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Arrowsmith, it is very difficult to see behind someone else's forehead, and you are not quite sure what they are thinking.

For ourselves, we have been very anxious to have any negotiations that might be called to be fruitful, to avoid using them as propaganda platforms and merely as ways and means of repeating our story or anybody else's story to the world. And this struggle, of this particular kind, does seem to have some of that purpose behind it. However, I am very hopeful that we can get some of this behind us now very quickly and get to the business of fruitful negotiations on the problems that both sides have agreed are important.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: Mr. Smith [Laughter]--

THE PRESIDENT. Maybe you're just a recruit.

Q. Mr. Smith: Sir, some of your recent and higher ranking appointees seem to be running into steady and increasing trouble in Congress. I wonder if you could give us your thoughts on why these appointees are encountering difficulty in being confirmed, and whether you think there is any pattern to this opposition to them.

THE PRESIDENT. It is rather baffling to contemplate a situation and try to determine what is behind it. As I have told you people so often, one of the tasks I set before myself 6 or 7 years ago in this job was to try to find people for appointive positions who were real public servants, who had records that would give promise of their competence in the public service, and then who were men of character and integrity and, where possible, proved even in the Government service.

A number of the appointees that I have recently made are of that character, like Mr. Strauss, Mr. Rothman, Mrs. Luce. All of these people, I went over them with advisers and with people outside the Government, trying to select for very important positions the finest I could get.

Now, the kind of delaying tactics, the kind of attacks made upon them, upon their integrity, is something that must have some kind of purpose other than mere searching into their competence.

For example, Mr. Strauss was secretary for Mr. Hoover, starting way back in the wartime days--Mr. Wilson's administration. He has occupied very important positions in Government since that time. And for them he always has been confirmed when they were appointive positions. He has interspersed that career, that governmental career, with business ventures that have earned for him the reputation of being one of the fine businessmen of our country and a man of integrity and ability and capacity. Why he cannot, after all these months, be confirmed is something that is completely beyond me--unless there is, you might say, a delaying thing there out of which they think some benefit will accrue. I don't know what it could be.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: We haven't heard a great deal from you lately, sir, about your program for a balanced budget and fight against what you have called reckless spending. Does this indicate any lessening of concern on your part?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Horner, I can't thank you too much for asking that question. [Laughter]

I have gone back to my last two or three conferences and I said, "These people have been conspiring to keep me from insisting that this country is hurting itself by too much spending."

We are on an upturn in our economy. And at this very time we are talking about balanced budget like it was something evil.

Ladies and gentlemen, my attitude is entirely different. I say a balanced budget is the minimum target that we are looking for. At this kind of time we ought to be getting some surpluses, we ought to be paying off something on our debt. If we could have these surpluses and begin gradually, even if a little at a time, reducing this debt, we would first of all be cutting down our expenditures for interest--'m this year we are, I believe, allowing $8.1 billion and we hope we can keep it down to that.

This is almost unconscionable. Instead of that, we talk about something to be gained by spending more money, piling the debt up bigger and bigger. I simply can't understand it, because today you--I think I have told you before my definition of inflation: when you take a market basket full of money to the grocery store and bring back your pocketbook filled with groceries. Now, that is the kind of thing that we don't want to happen. And yet, as we look back at the history of the value of our own dollar over the last 20, 30 years, we have seen prices going up and up and up.

The Federal Government simply must do its duty if we are going to preserve the kind of economy that we like to call a free competitive economy.

If we can preserve the values of our insurance policies, our bonds, if we can again make the Government bond something that commands a premium and is the very finest investment that the small saver can make, that is the kind of thing we must do. And we are going to do it only if we have got fiscal responsibility.

And if we, all of us, don't demand from labor, from business leaders, and from the Congress the kind of sensible, reasonable, needed action that all of us know to be necessary here, each one of us--not just "some other person"--each one of us is going to be hurt immeasurably.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, along this line--I apologize for my voice. Can you hear me, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I can.

Q. Mr. McGaffin: Along this line, it has been suggested that some money could be saved in the Pentagon if there were less missile duplications, such as that between the Bomarc and the Nike-Hercules. Your Secretary of Defense the other day suggested that he had been unable to do anything about it, and that perhaps Congress should put the Pentagon's feet to the fire.

Do you feel, sir, that this is within your own province as Commander in Chief?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I did not know about any statements made by Mr. McElroy. He hasn't informed me of that particular incident.

But I will tell you this: here is a matter that from the very beginning has been of the most critical concern to everybody in the administration. And only within the last 5 days, I think, I had again a large group of the scientists in my office, whose job it is to analyze each of these developments, not only on the possibility that they are duplicating missions, duplicating capacities for performance, but whether or not they are duplicating the very guidance, propulsion, and other weight-carrying systems, you see; because if doing it, again, we have to have a better coordination.

Indeed, one of the big reasons that I fought so hard and, fortunately, successfully for reorganization of the Defense Department was to get this whole scientific field into better control. And I think that with the new Space Agency and with the ARPA, together, and under the Secretary of Defense, progress is being made.

But I will tell you, it is very difficult, because over the years many, many contracts have been made where this coordination has not been had prior to the making of the contract; so that you now have to study, is it more economical and more efficient to stop some of these things in their tracks, or have you gone so far that you almost have to spend some more money to see about this thing?

It is a very important thing, and I believe that it really belongs in the executive department. We cannot duck our responsibility in this particular place.

Q. Kenneth M. Scheibel, Gannett Newspapers: Mr. President, on the Pentagon again, Congressman Kowalski of Connecticut claims that the Defense Department is wasting $250 million a year through assigning service personnel to jobs as cooks and drivers, waiters. How does his report compare with the information you have on this subject?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have had no report on this subject. People are used' for this kind of work; for example, all of the chauffeurs in the White House, except for my own Secret Service chauffeur, are from the Army. And then there is, in the White House--there used to be a yacht, a big yacht, and the crew for that yacht was used for mess purposes here in the White House. The yacht is no longer in commission, but those people carry on that mess.

Now, that kind of thing, I assume, goes in big headquarters every place, in the Pentagon and so on down the line. So I have no report. But I imagine this: if we just got these things all done by civilians, you probably would have to pay a lot more money.

Q. Lloyd M. Schwartz, Fairchild Publications: Mr. President, about 3 weeks ago three New England Governors came in and spoke to you about setting up an interagency committee on textile industry problems, and I believe at that time you expressed some reservations and suggested perhaps a broader sort of committee might be authorized.

Have you reached a decision on this, or have you decided not to authorize it?

THE PRESIDENT. No. What we have done, there are so many possibilities in the line that it turned out to be much more of a comprehensive study than I thought, and I just had a report within the last few hours that they are not quite ready for their final recommendation. But I tell you this: we will certainly make sure that this particular thing is followed very closely.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, since Vice President Nixon is opening the American exhibit at the Moscow Fair, would you look favorably on Mr. Khrushchev coming to open the Russian exhibit in New York? Has it been suggested to you and if so would that open the door to a summit meeting in this country with Mr. Khrushchev present?

THE PRESIDENT. You are really getting into the field of speculation.

No, I have not been contacted by anyone about the possibility of Mr. Khrushchev coming here on his own. I have heard of messages from some cities in this country who are very anxious to have a summit meeting, and they are sending invitations to everybody in the world, including me, to come to this country. But there has been nothing official whatsoever about it. As a matter of fact, one of the purposes of these foreign ministers is to decide, if there is to be a summit meeting, what will be its location and its timing.

Q. Mrs. Craig: But sir, the fair is different.

THE PRESIDENT. I beg your pardon?

Q. Mrs. Craig: The fair is different, perhaps.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the fair is there. But as I said, on that one, no one spoke to me about it, no one has spoken to me until you have about it.

Q. Felix Belair, New York Times: Sir, I think you have expressed yourself on two or three occasions about the 22d-amendment-repeal proposal about 3d terms for the President. Just to straighten it out, I wonder if I might ask, if called upon for your opinion by members of Congress as to how they might vote, what would be your suggestion to them?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll tell you. As I have explained to you people, here is one of those old questions where you can say a lot and you can argue very plausibly on both sides.

If I were called on to testify on this one, because that is all I can do-I have no function, of course, in the business of amending the Constitution--I would say at this moment I would not make any mistakes in a hurry. I think the Constitution is something that ought to be amended only after careful thought, not with any other purpose in mind except that of what over the years and over the long term is good for the United States.

So, as of now, I would say, let's let it lay on the shelf for a while and see how it works.

I just don't believe we should amend it, the Constitution, just every time we think a new law ought to be passed. We had that in the prohibition business, and I don't think we ought to have it so often.

Q. William H. Lawrence, New York Times: Mr. President, in the brief interval since Secretary Quarles died, have you had an opportunity to talk with Mr. McElroy about whether or not he will stay on as Defense Secretary and, if not, in what direction you might now be looking for a successor?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. McElroy and I have had, as you would suppose, a number of conversations. We are not asking for completely fixed commitments on anybody's part. What we are trying to figure out now is, what is the best thing to do to make satisfactory replacement for Mr. Quarles.

Q. Don Oberdorfer, Knight Newspapers: Mr. President, this Sunday will be the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision striking down school segregation.

From your vantage point here in the White House, would you assess the Nation's response to this challenge of a great legal and social change?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you are asking what has happened as a result of that decision; of course there has been much acclaim and there has been much resentment that up until that moment had not been created.

I believe that the United States as a government, if it is going to be true to its own founding documents, does have the job of working toward that time when there is no discrimination made on such inconsequential reason as race, color, or religion.

And I think we ought to, all of us, work at this. But I continue to say the real answer here is in the heart of the individual. Just law is not going to do it. We have never stopped sin by passing laws; and in the same way, we are not going to take a great moral ideal and achieve it merely by law. What we must do, all of us, is to try to make a reality in this country the great aspirations voiced by our Founding Fathers.

Q. Pat Munroe, WTVJ (Miami, Fla. ): Mr. President, the Republican Party in Puerto Rico is making an all out drive for statehood, although Governor Munoz is opposed. Do the Republicans there have your support, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they didn't contact me on that question.

One time, as you will recall, I suggested that if Puerto Rico wanted independence, they should ask for it, and I would appear before Congress the following day to ask them to grant it. That they declined.

Now, this is the first time I have heard that they are making a drive for statehood, and certainly, as you say--on a partisan basis--I would be rather astonished that any such drive would be made on a partisan basis.

Q. Rowland Evans, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, in connection with your request for housing legislation, did you mean to imply that you are thinking of the bill the Senate has passed and that is now stuck in the House Rules Committee?

THE PRESIDENT. I most certainly did not.

Q. Mr. Evans: I wondered, sir, if you did.

THE PRESIDENT. No. I said I asked for $6 billion additional authority for the FHA to insure mortgages for the building of homes. That is what I asked for. Now, this is a long ways from great big public housing programs and things of that kind.

Q. Mr. Evans: That is what I wondered, sir. In other words, you are not in sympathy particularly with the Senate bill.

THE PRESIDENT. You don't have to say "particularly." [Laughter]

Q. J. A. O'Leary, Washington Star: Mr. President, in connection with the highway program, if Congress is unwilling to give you the gas tax increase that you asked for, would you rather see the pay-as-you-go amendment suspended for a while than no action?

THE PRESIDENT. What I would like to ask them is this: to provide the revenue then that will do the job. I say in this time, when in our first quarter, our GNP, 465 billion, and by this last quarter, I don't know how far it will be, but it is going to be approaching 500 billion very if at that time we can't pay our bills; when are we going to pay them? Are we just going to let prices go on up and never pay them? Are we going to be a bankrupt nation? I don't think we have to be. So if they don't put that kind of revenue in--we ought to continue the road program, because of its great necessity, and we ought to pay for it.

Q. Sarah McClendon, Camden Courier-Post: Sir, I wonder if it is legally possible for you to delegate the power to, the decision-making power, to drop the nuclear bomb?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the nuclear bomb was dropped long before my time.

Q. Mrs. McClendon: I mean in a future war, of course that's different. I mean in the future, could you delegate the power, the decision-making power?

THE PRESIDENT. I would have to see what the emergency was. would say this: here is a thing that has to be done by the authority of the President as the Commander in Chief. There can be many, many circumstances or situations of emergency that we can't even conceive of right now, and you might suddenly--to make delegations of all kinds.

I would not ever say I should delegate authority to drop the bomb or not to drop the bomb. What I say is you have to run a war according to the necessity of the situation, and I wouldn't further predict.

Q. Robert L. Riggs, Louisville Courier-Journal: Returning to your appointments, sir, there have been reports published that a year ago Admiral Strauss came to you and advised you not to reappoint him to the Atomic Energy Commission because he feared the Senate would not confirm him. Is that true, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, first of all, I think that conversations between me and my individual advisers become very personal, and I really don't believe it is a question I should answer.

But I will say this: Admiral Strauss has had one attitude toward me from the very beginning, back in 1953, and this, indeed, applies to the other members of my Cabinet. In essence, you can say their readiness to remove themselves when they thought they were an embarrassment to me or a debit, rather than an asset, to the administration, has always been perfect. They have never sought, as far as I know, any kind of advantage that would keep them, or tried to exercise any influence that would keep them in this particular post or in another post.

Q. Rutherford M. Poats, United Press International: Mr. President, several weeks ago, as I recall, you expressed some doubt about the wisdom of adopting Prime Minister Macmillan's plan for a limited number of inspections of a nuclear test ban. Now the reports from Geneva suggest that the Russian version of that idea is making some progress and that we perhaps may be on the threshold of an agreement there.

Can you give us your assessment of the prospects of an agreement, and tell us whether you have revised your original judgment as to the wisdom of adopting the limited method?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not going to try to recall my exact words, but I did say here would be something that needed real study, because it is a difficult one, and I had not heard it until, well, a few weeks back.

We have been studying this thing, and we say that any limitation of the inspections would have to be conformed to the necessities required by scientific data. I am giving you exactly the advice given me by my scientists; they say until this thing is examined in all of its elements, you cannot possibly state or fix the number of these examinations that would be necessary, because how many stations, where they would be, how they are situated, what their instrumentation and everything else, all that has to be done before you can figure out at all any reasonable or any, you might say, appropriate number of on-site inspections.

So, my ability to make an estimate of what is going to be agreed or not agreed is just nil.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, NBC News: Mr. President, again on the Khrushchev visit, if he should express a desire to come here, would he be officially welcome?

THE PRESIDENT. You people love to ask "if" questions, don't you? [Laughter]

I think that you ought to wait until we hear something about it, and then see what the situation is.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, one of the most difficult, indeed tragic, problems of your administration has been the health of many of its members.

Mr. Quarles died last week, Secretary Dulles is fighting cancer, and yesterday General Twining had a serious operation.

Have these events inclined you at all, sir, to think in terms of the increased importance of basic medical research and the possible concomitant importance of Federal assistance in such projects?

THE PRESIDENT. The mass of my scientific conviction and opinion in this field is that we are doing quite a remarkable job.

There is one conflict here that most people don't think of. If we take too many medical men, scientists, physicists, and chemists out of current work and put them just into future research, you are, by that much, limiting the people that are taking care of the population right now or taking care of their jobs. Frankly, one of our great problems today, and we need research on, is how are we going to meet these mounting costs-let's say $25 in the hospital a day for a room, and some maybe $60 a day for nurses, to say nothing of the operational and the loss of income and all that sort of thing. Here is another problem in health that has to be studied.

Now, as I recall, in NIH appropriations since 1953 we have quadrupled them, and in the last 2 years--since 1956--we have doubled them. I think it is $259 million, the Federal share this year. To my mind, you cannot possibly expand more rapidly than that and do a good job, because you have to look for the facilities and talent and everything rise that you are looking--as I say, at the same time that you are taking the day-by-day practice and jobs we have. So, much as I agree with the thought implicit in your question, that the more we can do to keep these people healthy and prevent these things the better, still I think we are doing a pretty good job.

Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and fifty-ninth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 11:01 to 11:32 o'clock on Wednesday morning, May 13, 1959. In attendance: 225.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234825

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