Senator Burnet Maybank, in shirt sleeves and red-eyed with fatigue, marched across a deserted Capitol corridor and pounded on a chamber door. It was long after most Congressmen had gone home. There was a muffled response from inside the room. In a molasses accent, South Carolina's Maybank shouted: "Aw right, we-ah ready." A group of scowling members of the House emerged from the chamber and rejoined a delegation of Senators in another room, there to put their tired heads together again over the provisions of the Defense Production bill—the bill to control the nation's wartime economy.

In theory, they were...

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