87th Congress

Published: 1962
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Announcer: Now from space to Washington, a city where politics is not only a way of life, it's the staff of life. It's a city with an endless tug of war -- Congress on one end, White House on the other -- and the vast bureaucratic machinery of government, it has no time for either; it's too busy with its own internal political struggles.

What happened in this political jungle in 1962? For that story, here is John Chambers; his beat is Washington.

John Chambers: "Congress quickly settled into its normal pattern. The President gave his State of the Union message. Democrats hailed it as a brilliant document, but the voice of Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen rose in dissent."

Senator Everett Dirksen: " I thought it was a little like a Sears Roebuck catalog in that it pretty well covered all items with a markup in price, and I think we'll discover that that will be true."

William Leiss: Almost as the 87th Congress began, John Stennis, a Mississippi Democrat, touched off headlines with hearings. He chaired a Senate Subcommittee probing the muzzling of military men; but it was another Southern Senator, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who fired the investigation with his political views.

Senator Strom Thurmond: " The censorship of one of John Trudeau's speeches. We want to discourage the term 'world communism.' Well, why do they want to discourage the word 'world communism,' that term? Communism is a world conspiracy, and that is what the military people I think have an obligation to tell the troops and to tell to the people of this country."

William Leiss: One of the big stories from Washington occurred in mid-April: Congress sought vainly to play a leading role; but it was the President who starred.

Unknown Speaker 1: "US Steel is a giant among giants. For weeks, the corporation had been suggesting perhaps it's time for a price hike. The Administration countered each suggestion with one of its own. The White House had been lulled into the belief that US Steel would not up its prices, and then … "

Unknown Speaker 2: "The United States Steel Corporation announced today a general increase in steel prices. US Steel, which usually sets the pace on prices for the rest of the industry, said the prices of products will be raised an average of 3.5% or three-tenths of a cent per pound effective at 12:01 a.m., April 11."

William Leiss: The next day at his news conference, President Kennedy was grim-faced; his words were stinging as he drubbed the US Steel.

President John F. Kennedy: "In this serious hour in our nation's history, the American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans."

William Leiss: The President's solo became a chorus in which most every major figure in Washington joined in. Steel was lashed by Senators and Cabinet officers, but it was the President's words which stung the hardest. US Steel backed down.

By almost any reckoning, the 87th Congress was not a joy to the White House in the President's goals for his New Frontier. Medical care for the aged died under the Capitol dome; Federal aid to education was left to mold in the moist Potomac air; a proposed Cabinet post of Urban Affairs was shoved under a Committee rug; a billion dollars was slashed from the Administration's foreign-aid bill.

Yet it is possible the 87th Congress will be remembered apart from its predecessors for one measure, a revolutionary new trade bill. Hailed by the President, Democrats and Republicans, it had a few outspoken conservative critics like John Tower of Texas.

Senator John Tower: "It confers on the President unprecedented power to negotiate tariffs, particularly in connection with the common market. I think it gives this President more power than any President has ever possessed insofar as negotiating tariffs are concerned and I think to a great extent places American industry at the mercy of Presidential whim."

William Leiss: Congress was nine months old when it died, tired, angry, frustrated and facing elections a month later. But Congressional leaders could look back over its record with a feeling of accomplishment. Said Senate Whip Hubert Humphrey--

Senator Hubert Humphrey: "The full session against us, that is, the two sessions of Congress, give us a very broad and comprehensive record of achievement, starting out with the minimum wage and the area-redevelopment administration, the comprehensive housing program, the programs in the field of foreign policy, the aid administration, the establishment of a disarmament agency, the Peace Corps. And I might add if you would single out one piece of legislation that was historic in its meaning and application, I would say it's the foreign-trade bill."