Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  134. Address Before the Greater Los Angeles Press Club  
June 14, 1948

Mr. President, Governor Knight, Mr. Mayor, distinguished guests, and members of the Press Club:

This has been a most rousing welcome in this great city in sunny California. The Mayor of Omaha told me that the greatest crowd that has even been on the streets of Omaha was there to see me in that great city. At Butte, Mont., there were more people in the arena than live in Butte. I think they must have come from miles around in order to see what I look like and hear what I had to say. At Spokane, Wash., early in the morning, there were about two acres of people in the town, down in the park and in the center of the town. In Seattle the greatest reception, they said, that has been given to anybody in that great city. San Francisco the same way.

And here you top them all.

The reason I make that reference, it was said over the radio the other night by a Member of the Senate, that I was stopping at the whistlestops, misinforming the people about the situation. Los Angeles is the biggest whistlestop.

I have been trying to speak on the issues on this trip before the country. That is my privilege as President of the United States. I have a right and a duty to inform the people what I believe is good for the country. And I took this opportunity, before Congress adjourned, because I think there are some things the Congress has not done that they should have done, and I want to give them the opportunity to find out what the people think of those things that they have not done. Therefore, I took this trip before the Congress adjourned, in order that they may have an opportunity to act. I sincerely hope that they will take advantage of that opportunity. They still have time. And if they haven't time, they ought to take it.

And I wanted the record to be entirely clear. Congress should pass laws for the benefit of all the people, in my opinion, and they should pass those laws to meet the situations with which we are faced. And we are faced with some very serious situations.

The one I think that is most important and is closest to everyone is prices. Prices have been on the skyrocket ever since July 1946, when the price control law was repealed, by furnishing me with an impossible law which I had to sign because I had vetoed one just as bad on the 30th of June. I had to take the law of July 31st or have none. And I said at that time that it was worse than none, and it turned out to be just that.

Now, on the price index--which is made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and on which everyone in the country relies for the situation in the price setup--at the time that those price controls were released, it was in the neighborhood of 130 or 133. Immediately after those price controls were released, that price index went up 20 points, and it has been steadily climbing ever since. It now stands in the neighborhood of 172 and a fraction. That means that costs of everything that you have to buy--food, clothing-everything which you have to buy, has gone up almost 50 percent. That means that the dollar that was worth a dollar at 133 is worth about 66 2/3 cents at the present time.

Now in September 1945, in my message to the Congress, which stated the 21 points on which I proposed to stand as President, I asked for an extension of the price control law which expired June 30, 1946. In the Message on the State of the Union, in January 1946, I made the same request. In May 1946 I made the same request. I got nothing. And I got a law that was no good, that didn't work. I called a special session of the Congress in November 1947. In the meantime, in the Message on the State of the Union, I had told the Congress what the state of the price situation was at that time, but in November 1947, when the special session was called, I set out a 10-point program which I asked the Congress to give me to meet the situation with which we were faced in regard to prices and commodities. You know, the object of the price control law in wartime was to protect the consumer. It was a consumer's price control law.

This 80th Congress has said that prices would adjust themselves. Well, the prices have adjusted themselves and are adjusting themselves. They have almost gone off the graph adjusting themselves in favor of the man who controls the goods, and the consumer pays through the nose.

Now that situation has not been met. We should have a standby price control law to be put into effect when it is necessary, and it is necessary, right now. And we should have an allocation law which would allow the allocation of scarce materials into the channels where they will do the most good.

Nothing has been done about that situation. I still hope the Congress will act.

Now the next thing in which you are vitally interested down here, and every great city in the country is vitally interested, is housing. Housing. Four years ago while I was in the Senate, the Senate passed a bill called the Wagner-Ellender-Taft housing bill. That bill died in the House. Efforts have continually been made ever since that time to pass that bill. And the fundamental thing in that bill is a Federal low-cost housing program; that is, a low-cost rental program. Had that bill been passed 4 years ago, or 2 years ago, or 1 year ago, we would be beginning to get some benefit from it now.

This city, I think, understands the housing shortage better than the Congress does.

When I was here during wartime, you had an immense housing shortage. The Mayor tells me that the situation has not improved, because every GI who was trained in this part of the world wants to come back here to live.

That Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill--you see, they reversed it in this 80th Congress--has passed the Senate, and is now pending in the House. It would still be helpful if the House would pass that bill. The Chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency in the House has been sitting on that bill. But the other day he got the surprise of his life-time. The Committee took the bit in the teeth and 11 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted that bill out to the calendar of the House by a vote of 14 to 13. Eleven Democrats and 3 Republicans voted that bill out.

Now it is necessary under the House rules that a rule be made so that that bill may be debated on the floor of the House and passed. The Rules Committee now can roost on that bill until the Congress adjourns, unless the people of the United States wake up and do something about it, and force action.

The Chairman of the Rules Committee is a little bit tougher than the Chairman of the Banking and Currency Committee, so I doubt very much whether we will get action. But the Congress ought to stay in session until we get action on the housing bill. It is vitally important. It is vitally important for the welfare of this country that we have proper housing, proper housing at a cost at which men and women can afford to live in the houses, at a cost which will not take everything that these GI's have, at a cost which will be easy on the people who have to pay the bills.

I think the Wagner-Taft-Ellender bill, in all probability, can help to meet that situation. I sincerely hope something will be done about it.

Now I have another subject on which-in which you are vitally interested, and which I have been discussing on this trip, and that is the labor situation. The Republican platform of 1944, in bold, broad type, made the statement that they would build up a real Labor Department, that they would strengthen the Labor Department. You know what they have done to the Labor Department? They have practically abolished the Labor Department. They have practically put the Labor Department out of business, not by proper legislation but by choking it to death with appropriations that are not sufficient.

The last great contribution that this 80th Congress made to the Labor Department was to choke off the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so that it is impossible for them to act, and every business, every branch of the Government is dependent upon the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out just exactly what is happening to prices and in the labor market, and everything else that goes on where statistics are needed.

You see, they were not satisfied with taking the lid off the prices and letting them go to a mile-a-minute rate, they wanted to jerk the speedometer out of the car so you can't see how fast you are going into inflation.

Well, the last great effort that has been made on the Labor Department was to take the US Employment Service out of the Labor Department. They have already taken the Conciliation Service out of the Labor Department, and I am saying to you that I think the Labor Department is one of the most important and necessary departments of this Government, and I think the Congress ought to study this situation and take the necessary action to restore the Labor Department to the Department which I had built it up to, in the first 2 years I took over.

The Labor Department suffered during the war. It necessarily had to suffer during the war on account of the special agencies which had to work during the war. I have been trying to restore that Labor Department to its pre-war height. That is what ought to happen. I think the Congress ought to take some action on that before they quit.

Now the Republican platform was very much interested in social security. I have been asking the Congress to broaden the base of social security so more people could benefit from the Social Security Act, so that more people could get the benefit of employment insurance, and help to pay it while they worked, so that when they were out of work they will be contributing to their support when they are out of work, and will not have to go on relief.

Well, you know how the Congress has broadened the base of social security? They have just taken 750,000 people off social security, and sent me a bill to that effect, and tied a rider on to it, increasing old-age assistance, hoping that I would take that bait and let them get away wrecking social security.

I didn't do it. I vetoed that bill this morning, and I told the Congress that if it would pass the Congress in the proper form, I would be happy to sign it. And they have plenty of time to pass it in the proper form. Don't think they haven't.

Now I have had a health program. I sent the Congress a special message on health-on health and health insurance, and it had plenty of time to hold hearings on that, to debate it, to go into it, and they have done nothing about it. Now the health of this Nation is the foundation on which the Nation is built. I have made a personal study of that situation. We have got a health and accident situation in this country that is the most disgraceful of any country in the world. There are only two classes of people that can get the proper medical care nowadays, and that is the indigent and the very rich. The ordinary fellow who gets from $2,400 to $5,000 a year, and has to raise a family and keep up a home, can't afford to have his family get sick, because he can't afford medical care at the prices he has to be served at now.

Something ought to be done about that. A healthy nation is a great nation, and unless we maintain the health of this Nation, we will not have a great Nation.

I am interested also in those people who are disabled in industry. I am just as anxious to see those people restored to working ability as I am to see these crippled GI's properly taken care of. We have done a magnificent job with the GI's. We can do the same thing for those people who are crippled in industry.

In Seattle the other day I was in an institution that was just starting to rehabilitate men and women who are injured in industry. Do you know that there are in the neighborhood of 26 million people in this country who have been injured and who are permanently disabled or temporarily disabled, and that the vast majority of those people could be rehabilitated and be back on a self-supporting basis, if the situation was properly approached? That is appalling, and the vast majority of those people are injured in automobile accidents. The most terrible weapon that was ever invented by man! It is much safer in the front line in a war than it is on the roads of this country in peacetime when the automobiles are going full tilt.

I have had several sessions on that subject in Washington, in an endeavor to remedy the situation. I wish the Congress would go into this health situation and pass an intelligent health bill for the benefit of the whole country, so everybody could get medical care at reasonable prices when he needs it.

I appointed a commission to make a survey of the educational situation in this country. That commission made a formidable report, and pointed out exactly what the conditions in the schools in this country are today; and I made a recommendation to the Congress that the Federal Government make a contribution to the support of the schools of the Nation.

No action. No action. It's the most disgraceful thing in this country, that the teachers of this country are not adequately paid. There are conditions in nearly all the public schools in the country where the teacher has so many pupils under her care that she doesn't even have time to learn all their names. Something must be done about that!

The bill has passed the Senate. It wouldn't take 10 minutes for it to pass the House, if they weren't roosting on it over there. They should stay in session until they pass a bill for the assistance of education in this country.

Now I have sent a special message to the Congress on agriculture. I made a speech on the agricultural program at Omaha, Nebr., on a national hook-up, on all four networks, and I set out very clearly in that statement, and in the message which I had sent to the Congress, what the agricultural program of this country should be. You know, those support prices for agriculture will expire at the end of this year.

Now there is a bill pending before the Congress which is adequate to meet the situation, if we could only get it passed. A lot of these gentlemen who are interested in taking over the residence of the President of the United States in 1949 have been out in the farm belt telling the people what is necessary for a farm program, and how strongly they are for it. Now some of these people have powerful influence in this 80th Congress, and if they really mean what they say, they should do something about it. They can do something about it. There is plenty of time.

You see, unless this price-support bill is passed, the farm situation can very easily go back to what it was in the 1920's when the farmers had about $4,700 million in income against a $30 billion income last year. Then, the farmer didn't have a dime in the bank--if he had money to put in the bank, he would be afraid to go and put it in at that time.

He now has $23 billion in the bank-$23 billion in the bank, and he is not afraid of losing it, for there hasn't been a bank failure in this country in 3 years.

Now you have got something down here that you are vitally interested in and I am vitally interested in it, and so is the whole of the West. I have told the people all over the country that the most valuable thing west of the hundredth meridian is water, and that the proper development and control of the water resources of that area is more important to that one-third area of the Nation than any other one thing in the country, for without water you can't exist. I always considered this of vital importance to this part of the country, and I have made recommendations on three separate occasions in the budget in regard to that. And this Congress last year cut that budget appropriation, and they cut this one, but they didn't cut it quite as much, because--well, this is 1948! It makes a difference!

You know, Daniel Webster, when the United States was trying to build the Pacific Railroad, made the statement in the Senate along in 1830 that the West wasn't any good, and the further it could be kept from the east coast of the United States, the better off the country would be. And there are a lot of Republicans now ready to believe like old Daniel Webster did!

But money spent on reclamation, and public power, and irrigation is an investment. It gives a return of the money to the Treasury of the United States. It creates more agricultural production, and had it not been for the tremendous agricultural production of this part of the country, and the Mississippi Valley, this country would have been in an awful fix in the last war.

One of the greatest contributions ever made in the history of the world was made by agriculture, during those war years; and they are still making that contribution. For had it not been for the immense crops which we have been able to raise in this country, millions of people would have starved to death.

You know, this country has done something never done before in the history of the world. This country has prevented the conquered nations from starving. During the Napoleonic Wars millions of people starved to death in Bavaria, in Germany, and in Poland. We have made every effort to prevent people from starving to death after this last terrible war. And I want to see the agricultural sections of this country properly improved. I want to see the water resources of these rivers properly used. I want to see the proper development of the Columbia River Basin, the Central Valley of California, and the Colorado River. I want to see them integrated on a power basis, so that they won't have to have a "brown-out" in California in the summer time.

Now, gentlemen, that is a synopsis of eight important measures in which I am vitally interested. There are several more, but the time is too short, and I don't think I ought to try to inflict any more conversation on you about what Congress ought to do. I think I have made it perfectly plain, in these eight-measure instances.

And I do that in a most kindly frame of mind. I know the majority of the Congressmen. As individuals they are fine people. I have some of the best friends in the world in the Congress, but when I speak of the 80th Congress and its accomplishments in the last year and a half, I say that that Congress has not done very much for the benefit of the people.

They have passed a rich man's tax law. They have passed a lot of special legislation that helps special classes. And I am against class legislation, and I have tried to show that in numerous vetoes. And I made this trip so that I could lay before you personally my views on this subject.

If I am wrong, you will have a chance to attend to me later on, but if I am not wrong, you ought to attend to somebody else.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. In his opening words he referred to Joseph Short, President of the National Press Club, Goodwin J. Knight, Lt. Governor of California, and Fletcher Bowton. Mayor of Los Angeles.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.