The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Powell Amendment: reading around it

Having crunched the roll call numbers into a paste without notable result, I thought I'd take in a bit of background on the subject-matter: Federal aid to schools.

By dint of serendipity, I have a tome [1] with a chapter on a later episode in the saga - on Kennedy's attempts to pass a school aid bill - which is helpful.

The Cliff Notes version of the controversy: Federal school aid became an issue in the light of baby-boom hikes in school attendance (actual and expected); those ready with objections included the ideological - the Catholic church (unless there were equal handouts for parochial schools) and Southerners (if any such concessions to Catholics were made) - and the frugal - US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, etc.

Those supporting were the unions, the education industry and liberal pressure groups (such as the NAACP).

Two striking things arise in the pre-Kennedy summary (p10ff):

Firstly, one zealot for school aid was none other than Mr Republican, Robert Taft, who co-sponsored aid bills in the 80th and 81st Congresses (which both passed the Senate but were stymied in the House [2]).

How, I wonder, did the conservative [3] Taft find himself on the other side of an issue like this from the NAM?

Secondly, the 81st Congress bill was the subject of a spat between Cardinal Spellman, generalissimo of American Catholics, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep Graham Barden (NC) wanted to ensure there was no aid to nonpublic schools; Spellman objected; then Eleanor, in her column, stated she was against taxpayer's money going to parochial schools.

Spellman released
a letter strongly criticizing Mrs Roosevelt, concluding that her record of "anti-Catholicism" and "discrimination" was "unworthy of an American mother".

To be called un-American in those days had, of course, a particular sting!

A donnybrook of some heat and vigour ensued:
Eventually, in 1950, the House committee voted 13 to 12 against reporting out the Senate bill. The committee majority including two promising young congressmen: John F Kennedy and Richard M Nixon.

So, we see JFK wielding the hatchet of sordid sectarian politics (the left-footer-laden Massachusetts 10th District oblige).

But Nixon opposing a bill cosponsored by Taft? That's a man bites dog story, surely?

  1. The Uses of Power: 7 Cases in American Politics (1962) Ed Alan Westin.

  2. Opposite of the inter-war antilynching bills which tended to sail through the House, but meet a wall in the Senate.

  3. Obviously not in a Goldwater-Reagan-Bush II way. His ideology was, I think, a sort of armed isolationism, not destroying the world to save it for democracy.

    With, post Schiavo, a growing disillusion (druther alert!) amongst a swathe of Republicans with the cracker-pandering crowd currently owning the party, Taft (as a non-religious conservative) may be in line for rehabilitation.


During the Eisenhower presidency, there were three heaves at trying to get a bill through:

In the 84th, HEW Secretary Oveta Culp Hobby [1] put forward a modest adminstration bill; HR 7535 (to which the Powell Amendment was attached) was a Democratic bill introduced in response to the Hobby bill.

In the 85th, a more generous administration bill was put introduced, but was hobbled by mixed messages of presidential support (or the lack of it) - Ike was alarmed at escalating Federal spending in general.

Eventually, aid supporters decided to introduce the text of the Hobby bill as an amendment in the form of a substitute, which they thought would pass. Rules Committee Chairman Howard Smith (VA) then introduced a killer motion to strike the enacting clause, which took precedence and was duly passed 208-203 [2].

The 1958 elections were notable for their lurch liberal-wards; but the Rules Committee took a swerve in the opposite direction when, at the start of the 86th, the mild Joseph Martin was replaced as Minority Leader by the feistier Charles Halleck (IN). Halleck replaced two outgoing moderate Republicans on the Committee with two conservatives.

Now, whatever happened on the Education Committee [3], Rules had a lock on aid bills.

As previously, the Senate passed an aid bill, and the House Education committee refused to report out a similar bill, until a Republican [4] switched sides.

Once on the floor, the bill passed - even with a Powell amendment attached! - but not in the precise form of the Senate bill.

And - you're ahead of me - Smith blocked the conference resolution.

Love those Democrats!

  1. Crazy name, crazy gal!

  2. Voteview tells me this was RC 56 on July 25. 1957.

    Smith thus emerges as the Pasionaria of Federal school aid - ¡No pasarán! - only the floor of the House. He was Chairman of the Rules Committee from the 84th to the 89th.

  3. The 86th was Barden's last Congress as Chairman - I'm not sure how the 1958 election affected the composition of his committee.

  4. Al Franken and other airbrushers of history please note!

    There was the threat of a discharge petition; but those things are notoriously unreliable.


I see from Voteview that there was an schools aid bill passed in the 85th Congress - HR 13247, PL 85-864, the National Defense Education Act of 1958. This act, according to a handy list of Federal education acts,
provided assistance to state and local school systems for strengthening instruction in science, mathematics, modern foreign languages, and other critical subjects; improvement of state statistical services; guidance, counseling, and testing services and training institutes; higher education s tudent loans and fellowships; foreign language study and training provided by colleges and universities; experimentation and dissemination of information on more effective utilization of television, motion pictures, and related media for educational purposes; and vocational education for technical occupations necessary to the national defense.

And there are several other acts passed in the post-war period that might have given risen to splits on racial or religious lines: for instance, from 1954, the
School Milk Program Act (Public Law 83-597) provided funds for purchase of milk for school lunch programs.

Did Spellman not try to get milk handouts for parochial schools?

The text of the NDEA is here - on a Czech site of American historical documents worth mooching around. There is a 1963 thesis Public-Law 85-864: The First Year by Carl M Hill (dead-tree only).


Almost instantaneous enlightenment on the milk aid question: S 3342 was passed 328-1 by the House on June 30 1958, to (in Voteview's summary)
extend program to increase milk consumption by children in non-profit schools and camps.

The program must be the School Milk Program Act, surely?

Why did Barden report S3342 out, I wonder?

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