My recent recollections of Congressman Charles E. (“Charlie”) Bennett, who represented Northeast Florida’s (then) Third Congressional District for decades led a reader to conclude: “I’ll bet Congressman Bennett would be out of his mind by now working in Congress and trying to make America a better place to live. I think our country is in deep trouble.”
Another trip to my personal archives (read: scrapbook) gives us an idea of “What Would Charlie Do.”
In October 1963 I was stationed aboard the attack aircraft carrier USS F. D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). My billet was Assistant Navigator, but for another month or so, there was nothing to navigate. At the time we were completing a lengthy overhaul at the Brooklyn, New York Navy Yard.
Dear Mr. Bennett, I wrote on October 13th, “it is my deep conviction that the government is spending far too much money on useless projects or vote-getting “pork-barrel” projects. This letter is not meant to delve deeply into the subject nor am I an authority on it, but many organizations including the Hoover Commission and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States have recommended specific areas in which federal spending could and by all means should be, cut. This to be done without impairing essential government services or national security.”
“I am a practical economist and find it hard to justify the floundering in tremendous debt of the “richest country in the world.” Surely, we can spend less than we earn. Frankly, the possible consequences of our financial myopia are frightening to say the least. Are the fantastic expenditures for the space program necessary?”
“This letter is to urge you to support all rational cuts in spending, turn more local programs back to the communities, balance the budget and find some workable program for abolishing the national debt,” I closed.
Two weeks later, on November 1, Congressman Bennett replied.
“Dear Tracy: thank you very much for your thoughtful and helpful letter, which I find to be along the lines of my own efforts here, as I have voted to cut billions of dollars from the federal programs this year alone, and many more through the years that have passed. I also agree that some method should be found to restrain appropriations within the limits of the tax resources. The practical difficulty seems to be that the voting population apparently puts more emphasis upon obtaining the things they wish that upon the deficit difficulties besetting this country. Luckily for me, I live in an area which sustains economic sanity in government and it makes it a bit easier for me for this reason, for some areas give little consideration to economic and fiscal matters. I deeply appreciate your encouragement, Charlie.”
We now know that Charlie Bennett would continue to cut “pork,” restrain appropriations “within the limits of the tax resources” (balance the Federal budget), and work to “sustain economic sanity,” a concept ignored by most of his successors in Congress.
The interesting exchange of letters was not over.