• U.S.

Nation: Here’s to Harold

2 minute read

They were hoisting a glass on the New Frontier last week to Louisiana’s Representative Harold McSween, a Democrat with a strong aversion for the Administration’s controversial farm bill. For when the important vote came in the House Agriculture Committee, McSween said aye to the bill—and that was just enough to itch it through, 18-17.

For weeks, Committee Chairman Harold Cooley of North Carolina had been anxiously waiting for McSween, or one of three other Southern Democrats opposed to the bill, to change his mind and join the 17 Democrats who were for passage. All four were pressured by Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, and all four were exhorted to stand firm by the bill’s bitter enemy, the American Farm Bureau Federation. Four times, Cooley hopefully convened the committee for a vote. Four times, when he saw that he did not have the necessary 18 ayes, Cooley gaveled the committee into adjournment while Republicans taunted, “Vote, let’s vote.”

After McSween came through on the fifth try last week, he was quick to explain that he really was still opposed to the bill; he merely wanted to get it out of committee so that the whole House could vote on it. McSween also insisted that his vote had nothing to do with the fact that President Kennedy had taken him along on a flight to New Orleans the previous week—after all, the seven other Congressmen and two Senators from Louisiana had gone along. Nor, said McSween, did his visit to the White House the previous day have anything to do with his vote; he and the President had merely talked about sugar quotas.

Whatever McSween’s reasons, by casting his one vote he had given a considerable boost to the Administration’s hopes for its farm program, which would clamp such tight production controls on many farmers that they would be little more than the Government’s hired hands. House Democrats now think they have enough votes to pass the bill intact. Over on the Senate side, the Agriculture Committee butchered the bill, but Majority Leader Mike Mansfield believes that the Democrats can restore most of the controls before final passage. Because of McSween’s vote, said a grateful Secretary Freeman, the farm bill had cleared what “perhaps was its most difficult hurdle.”

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