The Republican President Who Vetoed a Great Depression Rescue Package in an Election YearHistorians in the News
tags: Great Depression, Herbert Hoover, Donald Trump, Congressional history, coronavirus
Congress was rushing to pass a huge spending bill to combat the nation’s economic crisis. The president desperately wanted the legislation but threatened to veto the bill if it was jammed with “pork barrel” provisions.
It was mid-July of 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression. Congress was pressing for a $2.1 billion emergency relief bill to fight staggering unemployment of more than 12 million Americans.
The frantic response mirrored current efforts to rescue the U.S. economy from the damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. In late March, Congress passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill signed by President Trump. Now, with 17 million Americans out of work, lawmakers and the White House are wrangling over another huge aid package to try to keep unemployment rates from rising toward Depression-era levels.
The 1932 bill’s inflation-adjusted price tag of $38 billion was dwarfed by this year’s $2 trillion price tag, but it was “gigantic” in its day. President Herbert Hoover, like Trump a Republican, had resisted federal spending, but this was an election year. On July 8, the Dow Jones industrial average had plummeted to 41.22, down nearly 90 percent from its peak before the market crashed on Black Monday in October of 1929. Many of the homeless were living in shacks in “Hoovervilles.”
During his nearly four years in office, Hoover had focused on trying to balance the budget. But as the jobless rate rose to a record 23.6 percent in 1932, he proposed a $1.8 billion relief package. Then, as now, Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats led the House. Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Democratic House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas responded with a $2.3 billion proposal.
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