What I now see is a marvelous example of presidential strategy and legislative accommodation -- of a kind I wish all presidents and lawmakers would emulate.
- FDR was slow to commit to aiding Britain even after his reelection, but then pushed his cabinet to develop a bill that granted him broad authority and flexibility. They expected that Congress would try to "tighten it up."
- Shortly before introduction of the bill, cabinet and congressional leaders worked out a list of amendments they would accept to build support for passage: a 5 year time limit; reports every 90 days; a requirement to consult with the military chiefs before any transfer of U.S. forces equipment; and a declaration that nothing in the bill authorized convoys of the materiel. [Sec.of War Stimson had testified that the president had that authority anyway under article II, but this sort of provision made Congress feel good -- and similar provisions have been used in recent years, too.]
- The planners worried about sending the bill through the foreign policy committees because the HFAC chairman had earlier botched floor consideration of the neutrality act and the SFRC had a near majority of isolationists, a problem solved by adding two supporters to the panel. But they decided against changes that would channel it through the military committees.
- The House parliamentarian suggested giving the House bill the number 1776 in part to help Majority Leader McCormack, the designated sponsor, who feared being hurt among his Boston Irish voters if the measure to aid Britain got labeled "McCormack's bill."
- Surprisingly, Sec. of State Hull, though supporting the policy of aid to Britain, was obstructive and unhelpful in the planning and testimony. The real leader of the effort was Treasury Sec. Morgenthau, who limited his public role because of concerns that he would be viewed as prejudiced because he was Jewish.
- Opponents offered numerous crippling amendments but even proposed outright loans as an alternative. The most damaging amendment, allowing Congress to cancel the authority by concurrent resolution, was approved in the House (148-141) because 67 Democrats were absent at a lunch. (That was changed by the SFRC to require a regular, vetoable bill.)
- Senators could have filibustered the bill -- which ultimately passed 60-31, less than the 2/3 then required for cloture -- but they didn't. That was the norm then on national security matters.
- The House agreed to the Senate amendments without further debate.
- Public Law 77-11was only an authorization bill. Congress still had to pass a $7 billion appropriations bill. That happened in two weeks, with little debate, and many members who opposed the first bill supported the spending bill -- because that was the decided policy for the country. [Sec.. Stimson noted that the only opposition in the Senate came from Senators seeking military patronage and spending in their own states.]