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National Affairs: Personal Endorsement

3 minute read

Within a few minutes after the House began debating the Defense Appropriations bill one day last week, the opposition line was clearly charted: this was not Dwight Eisenhower’s budget; the proposed cut in Air Force funds was the clumsy work of inexperienced and economy-minded civilians, e.g., Defense Secretary Charles Erwin Wilson, Deputy Secretary Roger M. Kyes and Assistant Secretary Wilfred McNeil. After the line was laid down by Texas Democrat George Mahon, other Democrats promptly began to walk it. Then, like a schoolteacher wiping a misspelled word off the blackboard, Kansas’ matter-of-fact Errett Power Scrivner erased the line with one swipe.

Republican Scrivner, acting chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s military subcommittee, rose with a letter from Dwight Eisenhower in hand. Wrote the President: “This budget represents my own views and bears my personal endorsement in all major particulars.”

With that basic point out of the way, Dwight Eisenhower went on: “I recognize that in these times . . . there is a powerful tendency … to seek after total or at least disproportionate military protection and to ignore the certainty that total military protection is unattainable. Indeed, the attempt to achieve it … would demand a state of … regimentation. There is also the ever-present struggle … of service partisans for a larger proportion of the defense dollar … These attitudes, among others, find expression in the current effort to pile dollars upon unexpended dollars in Air Force appropriations. Actually, the major portion of the Air Force reduction is simply application of rationality to requests for new appropriations so that previous over-funding of Air Force requirements can be eliminated . . . The new Joint Chiefs of Staff are soon to examine our entire program with meticulous care . . . Any needed modifications can and will be accomplished without impairment of any essential of our strength or delay in attainment of desired force levels.”

By the time Scrivner finished reading the letter, the issue was decided. Debate went on for another day and a half, but every attempt to increase the bill was voted down. When Texan Mahon moved to give the Air Force another $1.1 billion, the vote was 161 (mostly Democrats) to add the $1.1 billion, 230 (mostly Republicans) against.

The $34.4 billion package passed by the House is $6.3 billion less than the Truman Administration proposed and $1.3 billion less than the Eisenhower Administration requested. In the Senate, old friends of the Air Force were revving up to battle for more money when the bill hits the floor there. No one could be sure what the outcome would be, but there was no doubt that Old Soldier Dwight Eisenhower’s “personal endorsement” would carry tremendous weight in the Senate, too.

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