Solemn note in Congress (1-3-41)

Reading Eagle (January 3, 1941)

International situation gravest since 1917 as new body meets

Washington, Jan. 3 (AP) –
A new Congress – the 77th in the history of the United States – assembled today to face the problems of the gravest international situation since the historic 1917 session convened.

Old and new members alike agreed on what were the paramount issues:

  • “Total defense” for America – an enormous undertaking for which staggering new appropriations would be sought; and
  • Greater aid for embattled Britain, with the related question of the administration’s foreign policy.

Lively Session Seen

Both subjects, in Congressional opinion, were packed with potential controversy, and even before the new session came into official existence, there was ample evidence that the issues would be well aired in debate.

On defense, the main difference of opinion seemed likely to center on the progress of the program and its methods, rather than on the objective of a nation well-armed against any aggressor.

British aid and the administration’s foreign policy had far more explosive possibilities from a forensic point of view, and were considered the questions that would produce the bitterest contention.

Although overshadowed to a certain extent by problems immediately connected with the international situation, there were a number of major domestic issues to demand attention from the new Congress – many of them with a bearing on the defense effort, and all containing needs of controversy.

Budget Problems Aired

Well up on this list were higher taxes, an increase in the national debt limitation, changes in present fiscal policies, plans for hastening a balanced budget, Social Security Act revision, suggestions for broadening the agriculture benefit program and renewed recommendations for alterations in the Labor Act.

President Roosevelt, who will be inaugurated 17 days hence as the nation’s first third term chief executive, gave House Democratic leaders a preview of his ideas for new legislation at a White House conference yesterday. However, he will delay his opening message on the State of the Union until Monday to give the new session time to organize.

His budget message probably will be read Tuesday. Some administration officials have placed the new 1941-42 fiscal year outlay at $19,000,000,000 with perhaps $10,000,000,000 of it going for domestic defense and supplies for Great Britain.

The new session was able to convene in the regular chambers, thanks to several weeks of intensive engineering work shoring up the weak roofs over the two wings of the Capitol. A criss-cross maze of temporary steel girders overhead gave the House and Senate chambers an incongruous touch. The girders will remain until permanent repairs can be made.

Garner in Capitol

With the retiring Vice President – John N. Garner – back in the chair after nearly six months in Texas, the swearing in of 10 new Senators and appointing a committee to notify the President that the Senate was in session constituted that branch’s only new business. Garner will wield the gavel until the new Vice President, Henry A. Wallace, becomes the Senate’s presiding officer after his inauguration, January 20.

Both parties in the Senate will caucus tomorrow to nominate choices for President pro tempore to succeed the late Senator Pittman (D-NV). Senator Harrison (D-MS) was expected to be the choice. Senator Hill of Alabama probably will succeed Senator Minton of Indiana, who was defeated for re-election, as Democratic Whip. Senator Barkley of Kentucky remains as Democratic Leader, and Senators McNary of Oregon and Austin of Vermont, Republican Leader and Assistant Leader, respectively.

The House planned to organize immediately with the election of a Speaker and the swearing of 74 new members.

Re-election of Rayburn as Speaker was only a formality. He was nominated late yesterday at a Democratic caucus, which also renamed McCormack Democratic Leader.

Democrats in Control

Washington, Jan. 3 (AP) –
Democratic control of the 77th Congress, opening today, remained virtually as substantial as in the 76th which came to an end.

The roll of the new House listed 268 Democrats, 162 Republicans, three Progressives, one American-Labor member and one Farmer-Labor member. This compared with 259 Democrats, 167 Republicans, two Progressives, one American-Labor, one Farmer-Labor and five vacancies in the expiring Congress.

The new Senate had 66 Democrats, 28 Republicans, one Progressive and one Independent, compared with 68 Democrats, 25 Republicans, one Farmer-Labor member, one Progressive and one Independent.