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THE NATION: The Voice of Reuben

4 minute read

In 1917, when the House was voting on the draft act, one Congressman shouted an unnerving question at his colleagues: “Have you heard from Reuben? What does Reuben think?”

Last week, as a Senate committee tackled OPA, from farms and cities came a Reuben-roar.

The House had passed on to the Senate a pale and eviscerated OPA (TIME, April 29). Had not OPA been damned from hell to breakfast during the war when it stood for gas rationing, food rationing and such nuisances? Had not OPA been damned by farm lobbyists and businessmen after the war? Had not OPA failed to keep prices down? Black markets were rampant (see below). Perhaps the House had thought it was doing a fine thing in crippling OPA. But the House was in for a surprise.

Reuben wrote to his Congressmen. Post-office crews had to wade through his mail —10,000 letters for Senator Taft alone. Letters poured in from farmers, labor, housewives, white-collar workers. Whatever the sins of OPA, the U.S. consumer had been persuaded by ex-Advertising Man Chester Bowles that only OPA stood between him and disaster—and he was for OPA.

Uncommon Man. Non-Reubens were also heard. “Damn the men who look back,” cried OPAdministrator Paul Porter. Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau stared fixedly into chaos. The Ohio C.I.O. Council wrung its hands over the “foulest deed . . . done by a wicked alliance of Northern reactionary Republicans and Southern Democrats.”

Other CIOers actually produced what the Senators called a “common man” and rushed him to the Senate to speak. He was John C. Saccocio, uncommon Schenectady welder, who leveled an accusing finger at the startled members of the Senate Banking & Currency Committee, and said: “People like you and you and you and you—most of you do not represent the people. You represent the manufacturers . . . where is this democracy?” He would throw every last black-marketeer in jail. There aren’t enough jails, a Senator suggested. “Build more jails,” retorted Citizen Saccocio.

There were still economic classicists who wanted to end OPA. A familiar rumble came from the National Association of Manufacturers’ President, Robert, Wason: “OPA is trying to fool you and the American people in the hope that it can frighten you into extending its power for another year.” And a less expected voice, that of Minnesota’s Republican Senator Joseph Ball cried: “OPA [is] the most important single collection of American fascists we’ve got.”

Middle Ground.

Name-calling and pressure groups aside, there was a middle ground. Inflationary factors are indeed strong: the big demand for goods, the money burning holes in pockets, the pressure of organized labor for higher & higher wages, the delay in production, the unbalanced Federal budget, the coal strike.

But anti-inflationary factors are also at work. Pipelines to the market are filling up. Once the assembly lines are ready, goods will flood the markets, just as war material at last began to pour out in the fall of 1943. Production, more than anything else, will check runaway prices. And the good sense of the U.S. people, sometimes overlooked by paternal busybodies in Washington, could help. Public anxiety about OPA was itself a sign of public understanding.

Most businessmen, well aware of the danger of exploding inflation and finding first-quarter earnings good, were as anxious as anyone to dampen down. Philip Reed, chairman of General Electric, declared: “Prices . . . should be kept scrupulously down even at the expense of normal profit margins.” Manhattan’s department store, R. H. Macy, bought space in newspapers to publicize President Jack Straus’s plea for retention of OPA “as a necessary check against runaway prices.”

Most enlightened businessmen wanted OPA rules and practices altered in such a way that production will be helped, not hindered. They wanted OPA to decontrol as rapidly as possible—but wanted OPA control until production meets demand.

But the voice of Reuben, slightly hysterical as it was, had its effect. Before the Senate committee came two lobbyists who had helped prod the House into its brash action: Ed O’Neal, boss of the American Farm Bureau Association, and Albert Goss, Master of the National Grange. They did not go all the way with James G. Patton, boss of the Farmers’ Union, who plumped for OPA, but they did think the House had gone a little too far. Ed O’Neal, who often has Congress eating out of his well-manicured hand, now thought a better “middle ground” could be found. The Senate, a little unnerved, began to look for it.

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