The Center for Legislative Archives

Research Interview Notes of Richard F. Fenno, Jr. with Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1959-1965



Interview Notes Index

Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.


Interview with Rep. Ivor D. Fenton (R-PA)
June 3, 1959
General remarks: Everything was absolutely pat--no insight at all--old and quite inarticulate--a most frustrating interview.

Why did you get on the committee? You can learn a lot about government; you can learn all about it across the board. He lapsed into telling me what subcommittees he was on, and how he learned a lot.

He constantly stressed hard work, and I noted that he also stressed his attendance at subcommittee hearings as probably an indicator of how hard he worked.

How did you get on the committee? He went to the Pennsylvania man on Committee on Committees, and told him of his wishes--he noted that Pennsylvania has a weighted vote--he also went to other large state people--"who work pretty closely together"--he did not talk with [John] Taber [Republican from New York, ranking minority member on Appropriations], he said, and then said that it was so long ago--implying that he couldn't remember.

Advice to a newcomer: "Listen and get a grasp of things . . . when I came on the Interior Subcommittee all these things were Greek to me, and I said to Ben Jensen [Republican from Iowa], I'm not going to sit in these hearings any more till I go out and see these projects. That summer we went out West"--and then he defended congressional junkets--said he learned a lot.

I asked him if he would advise a subcommittee member not to oppose the subcommittee on the floor, and he gave me a typical (for him) answer: "No, he's a Congressman and can do it if he wants--of course, I might tell him he wouldn't get anywhere".

The House does not usually cut committee recommendations.

It strikes me, not from anything he said directly, that the presence of Clarence Cannon [Democrat from Missouri, Appropriations Chairman] and Taber at the markup session is of considerable importance as a force for harmony.

The full committee very seldom changes subcommittee recommendations--a subcommittee chairman is "very powerful"--

Why are there no minority reports? "When you've worked closely together all these weeks and listened to the hearings, you are pretty much in accord"--Cannon and Taber sit in on the subcommittee markup with full voting power--but they don't usually change the subcommittee--"they have implicit confidence in their subcommittee chairman"--he stressed the influence which the subcommittee chairmen have with the chairman--he probably had Mr. [Michael J.] Kirwan [Democrat from Ohio] in mind.

It seems from what he said that he talks with Jensen a good deal--Jensen is his senior colleague on two committees.

Regarding Mr. Taber: "In anything to do with appropriations, he knows the last word on everything."

The chairman is powerful because he has "the responsibility" for handling an appropriation of seventy billion dollars--"any man with all that responsibility has prestige."

How to find soft spots: "After you sit here for a number of years you just know when they are asking for too much"--this was his answer, in so many words--not a direct quote--I asked the question, again and he said, yes--the idea is that "you just know," no more and no less--you start with last year's appropriation and this year's estimate, and if the boost is large you are "suspicious."

He expressed the idea vaguely that consistent, steady bureau leadership is helpful to the bureau--a new man usually brings an understudy with him.

I pushed him on his relation to the Bureau of Mines--other committee members listen to him--"Yes, they take my judgment on both sides of the aisle, they accord me that courtesy. Now it might not be the same in all subcommittees"--the bureau "has confidence in me"--he thinks that they've gotten about all that they asked for over the years--but he would not really put two and two together in a strong statement--in fact, he said, "I wouldn't . . . want to take all the responsibility if something went wrong"--he was not an aggressive man at all, and he wanted to make sure that I understood that he acted under the authority of the whole subcommittee.

The Budget Bureau, he says, cuts the agencies down a bit--if they're still high--"we take a clip at em"--the Constitution says that appropriations will "originate in the House"--"we get the first crack at them"--the first crack theory gets repeated.

What about subcommittee hearings--orthodox answer: He says he doesn't go to the hearings with any "preconceived ideas"--he likes to listen to the hearings--he stressed his attendance at meetings--"better than the average member" (I also heard him stress this on the floor)--he doesn't get any information from the bureaus beforehand--there's "no lobbying or anything like that, that's illegal, or something like that, he said!"

Does he have communication with bureau people? Yes, with the Bureau of Mines people--frequently "to see how things are coming along. Whenever I want any information they come up here."
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