The Fight For The Queen, Or Two Cheers For Congress


The committee concerned with the Queen was that on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, presided over by the somewhat strange figure of Edward A. Garmatz, a representative from Maryland. Elevated to his imperial powers over matters maritime by the inexorable House rules of seniority, Chairman Garmatz is not only the congressional echo of the Coast Guard but the voice of the shipping industry and its powerful unions, for whom, in carefully watered and tended maritime bills, he obtains the annual subsidies amounting to half or more of the annual outlays for our fast-vanishing merchant fleet. It no doubt irritated Congressman Garmatz last fall when the New York Times printed an account of how he had accepted thirty-seven thousand dollars from his shipping friends as “campaign contributions,” even though he was unopposed in both the primary and the November election itself. And about the same time it clearly infuriated him to have a Senate amendment that would spare the Delta Queen tacked on to his omnibus maritime bill. He killed the amendment in committee, as only a chairman can, knowing it would pass if he ever permitted it to reach the floor of the House. In fact, twenty-five Delta Queen bills, all dutifully referred to the Merchant Marine Committee, disappeared in similar fashion, spurlos versenkt , in his dusty pigeonholes. His prestige was at stake; he had taken his position. The Greene Line should build a new, all-steel riverboat, he said; he had even given them extensions of time to do so. The price, when the line despairingly sought bids among American shipbuilders, was a preposterous ten million dollars; shopping among the congressman’s industrial welfare clients is not for bargain hunters.∗ On the same specifications a Dutch shipyard bid only four million, but another handy U.S. maritime law, the Jones Act, stipulates that American-flag vessels of any great size must be built in the United States.

Yet democracy does have its occasional day in court, even in Washington, although its ends must sometimes be achieved by means as furtive as those employed by the opposition. The friends of the Queen in the Senate quietly added a three-year extension of her life to a private bill (it reimbursed a postal employee for his moving expenses), passed it, and sent it, in a kind of end run, to the House Judiciary Committee, thus evading Mr. Garmatz. There Congressman William M. McCulloch, of Ohio, ranking minority Republican on the Judiciary Committee, shepherded it at length to the floor for debate—a rare thing indeed for a private bill. It was all over in an hour, with a vote of 295 to 73 to give the Queen three more years. The last-minute outcries of Congressman Garmatz, who warned of “blood” and disaster and quoted his Coast Guard sources, lost some of their conviction in the face of the headlines of the moment. Just a few days before the vote the Coast Guard, in its most bureaucratic and shameful hour, had returned the now famous Lithuanian defector to his Soviet tormentors.

Most congressmen, if given the chance, would have made the exemption permanent; indeed, so the Senate originally voted. But “getting the chance” is the heart of the matter. Getting to a vote is the great defect of our slow-moving institutions; it is the problem that over and over again faces those who, like the friends of the Delta Queen , like all lovers of historic preservation, like (we suspect) most readers of this magazine and certainly its staff, strive to save what is good in past and present from the mindless forces of supergovernment, superlabor, superindustry, and the faceless future. And so, finishing our instructive tale, we must note that the battle will come up again in three years, that Mark Twain’s prophecy may still come totally true, that there will almost certainly be another last trip down the great river of the West, and another mad delay—and what will the outcome be? O navis!