White-thatched Jesse Jones, the aging ex-Secretary of Commerce, stomped into the marble-walled Senate Caucus Room one day last week. He was half an hour late, and the jampacked crowd gave him a lusty cheer. Taking it; like a veteran trouper, Jesse quipped to Commerce Committee Chairman Josiah W. Bailey: "What about the gate receipts?"
Jesse was there, ostensibly, to testify on the George Bill to divorce the behemoth Reconstruction Finance Corp. from the Department of Commerce. But he, and everyone else, knew his prime purpose: it was to prove that Henry Wallace was not the man to handle the U.S. money, no matter how good a Commerce Secretary he might be. Jesse got to the point quickly:
"Certainly the RFC should not be placed under the supervision of any man willing to jeopardize the country's future with untried ideas and idealistic schemes.
"[The RFC] is bigger than General Motors and General Electric and Montgomery Ward and everything else put together, and you don't hear much about it because it is being run by businessmen, by men experienced in business, by men who haven't any ideas about remaking the world. . . ."
Remake the Country? This breathless, nonstop sentence brought sympathetic laughter and applause from the crowd. Jesse Jones had painted Henry Wallace as many U.S. citizens still see hima sincere but somewhat aimless dreamer who might be all right as an amiable philosopher but who should be kept at least a mile away from a balance sheet.
Chomping on a bit of gum, Jesse Jones now settled back for questioning. Under Senator "Holy Joe" Bailey's skillful direction it was polite and to the point.
Senator Bailey: "Might the powers of the RFC chairman be used to determine the economic direction o." the country and affect its whole political and social structure?"
Jones: "I think they could affect it very seriously."
Senator Bailey: "Have you ever [thus] used your powers?"
Jones: "I certainly have notexcept to the extent of being helpful."
Jesse Jones then launched into a description of RFC's vast and fabulously unrestricted powers and functions. The sole Congressional restriction on RFC is its top lending limit: $14 billion. In the 13 years of its existence, it has lent its present $14 billion revolving fund three times over (for a total of about $45 billion), made a profit of $500,000,000.
Jesse described how freely RFC worked and presumably could still work: "Back in 1940 we started building war plants. And we would do it on the telephone. [Lieut. General William S.] Knudsen would call up, 'Can you do this? Can you do that$100 million here, $200 million there?' Yes, that is the way we have run the business."
The Sky's the Limit. Chairman Bailey (like many another Senator who read the testimony later) was a shade awestruck. He asked: "Is there a limit? How far can you go?"
Jones: "We can lend anything we think we should."
Senator Bailey: "That means the sky, does it not?"
Jones: "Any amount, any length of time, any rate of interest."
Senator Bailey: "And to anybody?"