Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Veto of a Bill Promoting the Production of Synthetic Rubber from Grain Alcohol.

August 06, 1942

To the Senate:

I return herewith, without my approval, Senate 2600, a bill "To expedite the prosecution of the war by making provision for an increased supply of rubber manufactured from alcohol produced from agricultural or forest products."

This bill would create a new independent agency to be known as the Rubber Supply Agency to be headed by a Director of Rubber Supplies. The new agency is directed to "make available at the earliest possible time an adequate supply of rubber which, when added to the rubber being supplied by other agencies, will be sufficient to meet the military and civilian needs of the United States." To perform this duty, the agency is empowered to provide the necessary plants, equipment, machinery, materials, and supplies for the making of synthetic rubber. In order to get such plants and machinery, the Director is given power to obtain any necessary materials, and is given priority for them over all other private plants engaged now or later in making implements of war.

In other words, by legislative fiat, the manufacture of' synthetic rubber is ordered in quantities large enough to satisfy any and all civilian needs; and absolute priority is given to obtain scarce materials for this purpose, in preference to any other military needs as scheduled by the War Production Board, or called for by the armed forces.

The approval of this bill would, in my opinion, block the progress of the war production program, and therefore the war itself.

The Congress of the United States has heretofore definitely laid down the policy, approved by the President, that in order to carry on a unified, integrated, and efficient program of war production, it is necessary to centralize the power to determine the priorities of materials not only between military and civilian needs, but also among competing military needs. This power to fix priorities for the use of scarce materials has been vested by the Congress in the President of the United States, and has been delegated by him to the War Production Board. Experience in other wars, as well as in the present conflict, has proven beyond doubt that simplification of power with respect to the use of critical materials is essential to speed and efficiency. In fact, without this, there can result only conflict and delay.

On the War Production Board there are now represented all of the Government agencies concerned with the supply and use of materials for civilian needs in the United States and for the military needs of ourselves and our allies in this war. To this Board, therefore, can be presented all of the many conflicting military and civilian demands for materials of which there are not enough to go around. One of the responsibilities and functions of the Chairman of the War Production Board is to determine, in the light of the many demands and inadequate supplies, which requirements must be filled first—considering, as we must, that the sole objective is victory in this war.

Obviously, it is only after all of the reasonable military requirements have been met that the civilian needs can even be considered.

This bill would immediately break up that logical coordination of centralized control, and would set up a new agency with power and duty to manufacture alcohol and rubber, and to override all the priorities established by the War Production Board for materials necessary to manufacture all the other hundreds of products essential in war. It goes much further than that. It provides that even civilian needs of rubber—for pleasure driving, joy-riding—must be given consideration, for the bill sets forth the duty of the new agency to furnish rubber in quantities sufficient "to meet the military and civilian needs of the United States" irrespective of the relationship of such civilian needs to winning the war.

The War Production Board has adopted a program for making synthetic rubber, and is now operating under it. In doing so, it has endeavored to operate on the basis of estimated military needs for rubber and those civilian needs which are essential. By the phrase "essential needs" are meant those needs of civilians who require rubber in work directly related to the war effort—for example, driving to war production plants in automobiles where other transportation is not readily available. It includes also certain necessities for the community, like getting milk to the consumer or children to school.

In order to produce any substantial amount of synthetic rubber, new plants must be constructed or old plants converted. In formulating its program, therefore, the War Production Board has, of course, taken into consideration the amount of critical materials which can be diverted from other vital needs of the war program to build the plants to produce synthetic rubber.

In its program, the Board has allocated a certain amount of rubber to be produced from agricultural products, and a certain amount to be made from petroleum. Both types of plants—those using farm products and those using petroleum—are now being constructed, and others are planned to be constructed month by month, at the greatest possible speed.

Every one of these plants and all the machinery to be installed in them will require large quantities of certain materials of which there is great scarcity and which are sorely needed for other war purposes. They will require steel plate, other steel, copper, bronze, and brass. Remember that every time steel plate is used for a synthetic rubber plant, just so much is being taken away from ships, tanks, high-octane gasoline plants, and munitions plants. These rubber plants will also require compressors which are so badly needed to manufacture ammonia and other components of explosives. Every pound of copper taken for rubber plants and their equipment will mean fewer shells and less ammunition for our fighting forces.

In spite of the shortage of materials, however, we know that plants must be built to manufacture synthetic rubber, because rubber is necessary for our fighting machine, and for our production machine as well. I am just as determined as anyone to get that rubber—and to get it as quickly as we can. But it is necessary to weigh the need for factories to care for civilian luxuries against the needs of our fighting forces.

Therefore, to take the determination of this question away from a Board which is equipped by personnel, and by experience, and by an over-all knowledge of all our military and civilian needs, and to place it in an agency which is concerned principally with the manufacture of only one commodity, rubber, is in itself a disruption of a unified and expeditious production program. To go further, and to say that these materials can be taken away from ships and guns and ammunition and put to work producing rubber, so that some people might use it for automobiles for idle-hour pleasure, is to fly in the face of the realities of the present grave military situation which threatens all the world and civilization itself.

It is a gross distortion of our war production policy and a repudiation of our all-out effort to win the war, to say that any critical material can be taken away from military purposes and devoted to non-essential civilian demand. I am sure that not one loyal American would wish to take an ounce of critical war materials of any kind in order to insure the use of his own automobile for anything but essential war needs.

There is one other commodity—of supreme importance—which is involved in this question of synthetic rubber. That is food.

The proposed bill not only provides for a complete supply of rubber for any and all purposes, but it also directs that the new agency shall have the duty to "make available at the earliest possible time an adequate supply of alcohol produced from agricultural products to meet any military or civilian need of alcohol in the United States." In addition to the further consumption of critical materials for the construction of any new alcohol plants which the new agency may determine to be necessary, this provision may require the consumption of many millions of bushels of grain. Even the process of making synthetic rubber under the present program, now actually under way, will require almost one hundred million bushels of grain.

It is true that we have great grain reserves at present; but we must bear in mind that there is a steadily increasing demand for grain for the making of food for the Army and Navy and Air Force—not only of the United States but of all the United Nations. In the event of a serious drought next year like those of 1934 and 1936—which is always a possibility—our reserves of grain may not be sufficient to cover the requirements both for food and for unlimited alcohol and rubber. Therefore, the need of grain for food instead of unlimited rubber or alcohol is something which must also be taken into consideration by those charged with the over-all responsibility of the entire war production effort.

The processes for making synthetic rubber are now in a state of flux. Some of them are in the purely experimental stage, others have been demonstrated to have varying degrees of efficiency.

It is obviously impossible to determine in advance just which process will eventually prove to be the most desirable, taking into consideration the elements of speed, efficiency of production, and consumption of critical materials. Even the processes for making synthetic rubber out of grain are several in number, and new ones are being presented from time to time. The whole question of which process to use is tied up with the question of the most strategic use of the materials which are at hand or which can be obtained. Determination in this more or less uncharted area should have the advantages of the flexibility of administrative action rather than be frozen by legislative mandate.

It may well be that serious mistakes have been made in the past, based either on misinformation, misconception, or even partiality to one process or another. It may be that the present program of the War Production Board is not the best solution. If so, the facts should be ascertained and made public. This is particularly so, if it be true, as charged by some persons in the Congress and outside the Congress, that the manufacture of synthetic rubber from grain has been hamstrung by selfish business interests.

The question of rubber for automobiles is an unusually important one because it so intimately affects the daily lives and habits of so many American citizens. The very passage of the present ill-advised bill is an indication of the overwhelming interest which the American people have in this problem.

I am sure, however, that once they are given the full facts as to the supply of rubber and the military and essential civilian needs for rubber, and the amount of materials required for the production of an adequate supply of synthetic rubber, they will be wholly willing to forego their own convenience or pleasure. Americans gladly give up their comforts, their time, their money —everything that seems necessary to the successful prosecution of the war effort. They freely and proudly make the greatest sacrifice of all—their own sons and brothers.

In recent months there have been so many conflicting statements of fact concerning all the elements of the rubber situation—statements from responsible Government agencies as well as from private sources—that I have set up a committee of three men to investigate the whole situation—to get the facts—and to report them to me as quickly as possible with their recommendations.

This committee will immediately proceed to study the present supply, the estimated military and essential civilian needs, and the various processes now being urged; and they will recommend processes to be used, not only in the light of need for rubber, but also in the light of critical materials required by these processes. In a sense this will require a review of the program now being followed by the War Production Board, It will form a basis for future action not only with respect to synthetic rubber, but also such matters as Nation-wide gas rationing and motor transportation. The responsibility for the distribution of critical materials will continue to remain with the War Production Board; but the Board, as well as the American people, will have a complete statement before them of the facts found by the committee.

This unusual investigation is being directed because of the interest of the American people in the subject, because of the great impact of the lack of rubber upon the lives of American citizens, and because of the present confusion of thought and factual statement.

In the meantime, of course, the manufacture of synthetic rubber from oil and grain will continue without interruption.

The functions of this committee require not only experience in business and production and the relations of Government thereto, but also trained, scientific minds. Therefore, I am appointing as members of this committee, Honorable Bernard M. Baruch, Chairman; Dr. James B. Conant, President of Harvard University; and Dr. Karl T. Compton, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They will be equipped with adequate staff and will, I know, submit their report at the earliest possible moment. I am asking them to investigate the whole situation, and to recommend such action as will produce the rubber necessary for our total war effort, including essential civilian use, with a minimum interference with the production of other weapons of war.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Veto of a Bill Promoting the Production of Synthetic Rubber from Grain Alcohol. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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