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The Marshall Plan's latest appropriation bills are up for congressional approval. During the past week both the Senate and House got the bills from committee; the Senate measure gives ECA just what it needs, while the House bill could cripple our relations with Western Europe.
Both bills look much a like. Each grants ECA $3,100,000,000, each wants Europe to set up machinery for breaking trade and currency barriers. But the Senate resolution turns over the money with no fine-print restrictions, the House bill requires that $1,000,000,000 of its fund must be used to ferry our agricultural surpluses to ECA countries.
The reason for this predicted spending looks wonderfully logical. The proponents of the House bill, and there are apparently a lot of them, claim that ECA was going to send a billion dollars worth of food to Europe next year, and that taxpayers could save this money by shipping already-purchased surplus produce instead of allowing ECA to buy it on the open market.
What is wrong with this little exercise is that it ignores one of the things that has made the Marshall Plan so effective. For under ECA's set-up requests for goods originate from the joint decision of needy countries; ECA rubber-stamps these requests as approved unless the goods are in short supply in the U. S. or can be bought in Europe. And these requests do not frequently coincide with our agricultural surpluses. Western Europe is far more interested in flour and fertilizer than in powdered eggs and blue-dyed potatoes. Much of ECA's value, both political and economic, has come from its willingness--and ability--to send Western European countries the goods they require to re-construct.
The House Bill will no longer permit this. Europe will have to take powdered eggs whether it wants then or not, and will have to give up a billion dollars worth of the goods it needs. ECA's chief, Paul Hoffman, calls the bill a "strait-jacket."
There are further things wrong with the House measure. ECA's open market buying finds far better bargains than the parity prices payed for surplus crops; if further buying is curtailed, the government would probably have to boost its surplus purchases an equal amount to keep up farm prices. And there is a myopic self-interest behind the bill. For to many Congressmen's annoyance, ECA, perhaps more than any other government agency, has managed to remain free of political free-loading. The bill would finally permit the farmer's representative a chance to steer his constituents a little government cash.
The Communists in France and Italy and the Low countries have muttered for three years at how ECA was an instrument for dumping America's surpluses. They have been wrong. Unless the House hurries up, it is about to brighten the lives of an awful lot of these Communists.
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