In flat, unimpressive, and at times halting phrases, an ex-Senator from Missouri yesterday reported to the Congress of the United States the outlines of the program which he deems "necessary and essential" to avert chaos in Europe and economic disaster at home. It was a sweeping program. It was a daring step.
President Truman asked the special session of Congress only for interim aid to Europe. He does not expect to present the "Marshall Plan" until the regular session convenes in January. Most Congressmen will probably go along with the President in matters relating to foreign aid. The necessity for such aid is generally conceded and the only argument is likely to be over ways and means for financing and administering the aid.
But the President went further, He made the very logical connection between European aid and inflation, and, taking his political future in his hand, asked that measures be taken to curb runaway prices. Price control or allocation have never been popular in this country, particularly with Congressmen. Left to itself, the legislature would be most reluctant even to consider such an issue. By the very nature of its composition a Congress made up of locally elected individuals has little to gain and much to lose by raising controversial problems. Any effective solution is going to antagonize a sizeable group of voters.
The executive, however, is less easily inflenced by local pressures. The President can be the spokesman for the whole people. As Woodrow Wilson said, the office of President can be anything the incumbent has the ability and determination to make it. Mr. Truman demonstrated yesterday that he intends to make it something positive and vital. He demonstrated furthermore, that he realizes that he source of his power lies in his ability to capture the imagination and serve as a focal point for the aspirations of the great mass of the people. Said the President, "I am confident that the Congress, guided by the will of the people, will take the right course on this occasion." With the people the President is everything. Without them he is nothing.
Mr. Truman's program is one that will be support by the people only if they rise above themselves and their special interests, even as the President rose above the ordinary level of political life in presenting the program. He offered a multiplicity of proposals which included: 1) consumer rationing of products in short supply 2) price ceilings on certain basic commodities 3) wage ceilings for the industries that produce such goods 4) strengthened rent controls 5) allocation of scarce commodities 6) regulation of speculative trading on commodity exchanges 7) restoration of consumer credit controls 8) measures to conserve and make the most efficient use of grain and livestock.
There are few people who would not be directly affected by one or more of these proposals. Every single proposal is likely to be anathema to some particular economic group. Mr. Turman was particularly brave in proposing wage ceilings for certain industries--a matter which several commentators had already concluded he would not dare to touch.
His program is a well integrated, closely knit unit. Taken as a whole it would work for the best interest of that amorphous character, the consumer. It would promote that ubiquitous concept, the public good. If it is pressured into oblivion, even more drastic measures may be required at some date in the not too far distant future.