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For the first time in history, the U.S. was getting ready to lower the ceiling on its national debt. With the blessing of Treasury Secretary Fred Vinson, the Senate Finance Committee sent up a bill to reduce the limit from $300 to $275 billion.* Crowed billion-pinching Senator Harry Byrd, watchdog of U.S. finances: “A concrete step toward the end of deficit financing.”

Bayou Croaker

Big as a bayou bullfrog, Mississippi’s Theodore Gilmore (“The Man”) Bilbo hopped on the Senate floor.

He was there to denounce the loan to Britain, but—as he held the floor for parts of two days—other subjects caught his fancy. Chief among them: U.S. magazines and newspapers.

He landed on LIFE, which had recently dubbed him—on the basis of a poll of top-ranking Washington correspondents—the “worst man in the Senate.” Chugged Bilbo: “This leftish, communistically, pink-colored, mongrel magazine . . . mean, dirty, subtle, libelous. . . .”

Then, for good measure, he attacked half a dozen New York City newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “communistically inclined newspapers” of Chicago, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Record “which gathered their mud buckets and tried to bespatter [my] name.”

Suddenly he remembered that he had other flies to catch. He would have liked to stay and defeat the British loan, but—”Four peckerwoods down in Mississippi [are] trying to take my job away from me.” Would the Senate give its unanimous consent to his absenting himself until after the July 2 primaries? The Senate gave its unanimous consent.

Work Done

The Senate:

¶ Had trouble getting a quorum for the British loan debate, sent out the sergeant at arms to round up absent members.

¶ Received from the Judiciary Committee a House-passed bill restoring to state ownership all tidewater oil deposits (an issue over which Ed Pauley had stubbed his toe as candidate for Under Secretary of the Navy).

¶ Sent to the Naval Affairs Committee the Army-favored Thomas bill for merger of the armed services.

¶ Confirmed the nominations of Careermen 1) Joseph Flack as Ambassador to Bolivia, 2) J. Rives Child as Minister to Saudi Arabia, 3) Edwin F. Stanton as Minister to Siam.

¶ Passed a second deficiency appropriation (of $63 million) to bail out federal agencies which had exceeded their budgets.

¶ Passed a bill permitting food packages to be sent to Germany & Japan.

The House:

¶ Off on a twelve-day recess, stayed at home to mend election-year fences.

*In 1935, in a speech in Atlanta, Franklin Roosevelt recalled a conference held two years before with “the great bankers of the U.S.” Their cautious prediction: “The country could safely stand a national debt of between $55 and $75 billion.” The President’s still more cautious answer: “A rise in the national debt to any such figure was . . . wholly unnecessary. . . . Only a moderate increase in the debt for the next few years seemed likely and justified.”

*Leahy, Truman, Mitscher, Forrestal.

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