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President Obama, You’re No FDR

As Jennifer pointed out this morning, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh has come out against the Omnibus Appropriation Bill, that would fund the government until the end of the fiscal year, September 30th.

It is, as Bayh writes, a monument to business as usual in Washington: an eight-percent increase inflation over the previous year and 9,000 earmarks for everything from honey bee research to foot trails.  It is, says Senator Bayh, a “spending measure that lacks the slightest hint of austerity from the federal government or the recipients of its largess.” The Obama administration dismisses the bill as last year’s business, and thus no concern of theirs.

With all the FDR comparisons floating around, it should be noted that the contrast between the Obama administration’s cavalier attitude towards this bill and FDR’s actions in the first days of his administration could not be more striking.

FDR’s first priority was the Emergency Banking Act, that brought the American banking system back from its near-death experience in the winter of 1932-33. The second bill sent up to Capitol Hill by FDR was the Economy Act that became law eleven days after the inauguration.  It called for cuts in the salaries of federal employees of up to 15 percent and cuts in the budgets of government departments by up to 25 percent. It also reduced the pensions of many veterans (veterans were then the most powerful lobby in Washington) by up to 15 percent.

Naturally, there was opposition, especially from such groups as the American Legion, from bureaucrats, and from liberals. But Roosevelt let it be known that congressmen who voted against it might find themselves denounced by him on the radio. It passed the House 266-138. In the Senate there was bipartisan opposition, from the likes of Democrat Huey Long of Louisiana, who, characteristically, thought it would benefit only the likes of “Mr. Morgan,” and “Mr. Rockefeller” and Republican senator Arthur Robinson of Indiana, who thought it would just throw still more people out of work.

But other senators argued that it was time to put aside narrow self-interest for the good of the country. Sen. Henry Fountain Ashurst of Arizona, a Democrat, noted that his state was home to a large number of veterans, who vehemently opposed the bill. But he said that “the perpetuity of the Republic does not depend on my re-election to the Senate,” but that it might “depend upon granting to the President the authority for economies called for in his message to Congress.” It passed the Senate 62-13.

The Economy Act of 1933 saved the government not far short of a billion dollars in a year when federal revenues were only $1.99 billion and outlays $4.59 billion.  Thus it provided massive relief funds for the desperate.


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