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The Fanne Foxe Memorial Tax Bill

Could a powerful Republican getting caught drunk-driving with a stripper end big oil’s dominance of the Senate?

Nixon Resigns

TV image of President Richard Nixon announcing his decision to resign, August, 9th, 1974

Tom Middlemiss/NY Daily News Archive/Getty

The massive chandelier in the Ways and Means Committee room glittered ever so brightly the day Wilbur Mills became a liberal. The oil paintings of former committee chairmen — including a huge one of Wilbur himself — hung ever so regally on the pale green walls. The carpet was the color of musty, well-traveled $100 bills. The two black door keepers strutted about with the pride of field hands recently promoted to the main house. The trappings of power remained firmly emplaced, but beneath the surface there were strange rumblings….
Two extra tables had been added for reporters who sensed that big doings were about to take place. Their suspicions were confirmed when Polly Mills was ushered into a front-row seat in the visitors’ gallery — a rare appearance by the chairman’s wife, which prompted a committee staff member to speculate, “Either Wilbur made her come as a show of unity…or she came on her own to keep tabs on him.”

She sat there demurely, a pleasant gray-haired woman, receiving well-wishers and glancing warily over to the press tables where a reporter was opening the early edition of the Washington Star-News, gasping and saying, “Holy Shit! Look at this.”

And there, beneath the breathless headline, “Tidal Basin Bombshell Bares All,” was a picture of that other woman in Mr. Mills’s life, Ms. Fanne Foxe. With no clothes on. With a nipple peeking out from beneath an almost strategically placed arm. With a crowd of men leering up at her during her debut as an exotic dancer in a Boston strip joint.

Just then, Mr. Mills entered the room, taking his seat at the head of the horseshoe table. A photographer closed in, shooting the chairman from various angles as Mills chatted with members and staff. He is a deceptively small man with large shoulders and head — with his gray hair slicked back and his wire-rimmed glasses he often looks like Lyndon Johnson in miniature. Like Johnson too, he has the reputation of being a master manipulator, the type who’s at his best behind closed doors wheedling and cajoling, sweatily fondling the levers of power.

Mills was followed to the table by the other committee members. They were, by and large, not very distinguished-looking men who, if one weren’t aware of their lofty station, might easily have been mistaken for the steering committee of the local Rotary Club or, perhaps, for those men leering up at Fanne Foxe in Boston. They took their places at the horseshoe table and stared out at their audience — several hundred very well-dressed men and women seated in navy blue leather chairs. The lobbyists. The representatives of the rich and powerful, sitting there as securely as the gold in Fort Knox, watching their public servants closely for even the vaguest sign of a misstep. Taking notes.

This was not going to be a good day for the lobbyists, though. For years they had held sway over the men on the other side of the table, but now, on November 19th, 1974, that was changing. Part of the reason was the copy of the Washington Star-News that was being passed down the press table to Congressman Bill Archer (R-Texas) who, receiving it, began to laugh uncontrollably. Much more important were the young liberals who would be invading the Congress in just a few weeks, unbought and unbossed.

Wilbur Mills knew they would be a threat to his power. He knew that the newcomers — and not the friendly lobbyists who’d bankrolled his 1972 presidential bid — would be his most important judges now. He had to establish credibility with them, and to do that he would have to get a tax reform package out of committee. It would have to be a package that eliminated that most hallowed of tax dodges, the oil depletion allowance. It was a desperate and obvious move, and one that was likely to fail, but it was all he had left.

And so Wilbur Mills gaveled the Ways and Means Committee to order, fully aware that 50 years of oil company domination of government might be coming to an end because of the ironic combination of public reaction to a deposed Republican president and a 38-year-old stripper.

The pressures had been there from the beginning of the year — the long gas lines, the public howl over oil company profits, and the far more serious intimations that if Richard Nixon were to go, he might drag down the whole Washington establishment with him. But Wilbur Mills had been pushed before, and had survived. In the early Sixties, despite tremendous pressure, Mills had dallied for years with Medicare legislation before allowing it out of his committee. In the early Seventies, he had done the same with revenue sharing.

Since 1957, when he became the youngest Ways and Means Committee chairman in history (he was 48), Mills had continually managed to outfox his colleagues and maintain a stranglehold over the committee, which handles all tax legislation and most other bills involving money. He’d done it artfully, by balancing his natural affinity for big business — more than half the contributions to his presidential campaign came from milk, oil and financial groups — against the gnatlike proddings of the liberals…and by sheer intimidation. Most of this was accomplished quietly, without much publicity, since committee meetings were held behind closed doors until this year. (The doors were finally opened in response to pressures by Common Cause and other reform groups.) The fact that no one ever really saw Wilbur Mills in action made him seem that much more powerful. Committee member Sam Gibbons (D-Florida), a paunchy Jimmy Stewart type, was only mildly indulging in hyperbole when he asked Mills in 1972, “Wilbur, why do you want to run for president and give up your grip on the country?”

But power has limits, and Mills was wise enough to realize that something would have to be done this year to at least make it seem like Congress was holding the oil companies in check. In February, the committee began working on the oil and gas energy tax act of 1974.

In the mornings, the 25 committee members would meet in the opulent committee room with the chandelier and the huge audience of lobbyists. In the afternoon, they would troop over to H-208, a beige closet of a room just off the floor of the House of Representatives. The lobbyists would wait in long lines (often paying someone to stand in for them) for the privilege of attending the afternoon sessions. They sat quietly for the most part, as if in judgment, occasionally button-holing a committee member before or after a session.

The bill that emerged in May was truly a masterpiece of what politicians like to call “consensus politics,” but others might describe less charitably. The committee’s report began with what appeared to be a broad frontal attack on oil company profits: “The committee believes that major windfall profits of the size realized by the oil companies in recent months is contrary to public policy. As a result, the committee has decided to impose a tax on windfall profits…estimated to be $1.9 billion for the last half of 1974, $3.6 billion for 1975, $3.8 billion for 1976, and $2.2 billion for 1977.”

All those billions sounded real nice, but there was a catch. The very next paragraph began with a discussion of how important it was that the country become energy self-sufficient by 1980. “Because of the dominant importance of this objective,” the report continues, “the committee concluded that it was desirable to forego most of the windfall profits tax collection in the five-year period ahead if the oil companies substantially increase their efforts in this period to find and develop new domestic energy resources.”

In other words, the committee decided to impose a tax and then not collect most of it.

Having disposed of the windfall profits problem in an even-handed manner, the committee went on to make minor modifications in the tax credits and incentives companies get for foreign oil production. Then it was ready to tackle the vaunted oil depletion allowance.

The depletion allowance was born in 1926 when the oil companies, nothing that other industries were getting tax breaks, decided they should have one too. Simply put, it meant that 27 percent (later reduced to 22 percent) of a company’s gross income from oil production would be tax free. The effect in 1974 is that the average taxpayer is giving the government an extra $35 to replace the $2.6 billion that the oil companies are deducting.

Even in 1926, this was pretty controversial. Since then, the depletion allowance has been a favorite target of politicians ranging from Huey Long to Robert Taft Sr. Franklin Roosevelt said its purpose was to “dodge the payment of taxes.” Harry Truman said, “I know of no loophole…so inequitable.” Richard Nixon liked it. And Congress never seemed able to do much about it.

There was just no way Mills could avoid dealing with it this year, though, and reluctantly the committee came up with a plan to phase it out by 1979. With some exceptions, of course. Bob Brandon, of Nader’s Tax Reform Research Group, estimated that the “exceptions” amounted to about 30 percent of the total depletion allowance. Even this modified phaseout wouldn’t begin until 1975 — thus leaving this year’s huge profits untouched.

There was some grumbling about this among the handful of liberals on the committee, but their move to immediately abolish the depletion allowance with no exceptions was beaten easily. The bill was reported out of committee on May 4th, and that’s when the first signs began to appear that Wilbur Mills’s house was crumbling.

Normally, it would have been smooth sailing. The bill would have breezed through the Rules Committee and onto the floor without amendments. It probably would have passed the House in an orgy of congressional backpatting, hailed as a great step forward for the little guy. But up from the back benches rose a challenger to Wilbur Mills. In fact, a pretty unlikely challenger: Congressman William J. Green of Pennsylvania.

There are liberals and there are liberals. Until this year, Bill Green was the sort of liberal who voted right (he regularly received a 100 percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action) but did little else. He had arrived in Congress ten years ago, at the age of 25, to fill what amounted to a family seat in the House, a seat his father had held for 30 years. He is an outrageously handsome man, the type of politician that media consultants drool over. A great candidate, but a lousy congressman.

According to Nader’s Congress Project, Green attended fewer committee meetings and cast more proxy votes than any other member of Ways and Means. It’s possible that he was more interested in the goings-on in Philadelphia, where he challenged Frank Rizzo for mayor in 1971 and was clobbered, than Washington. It’s also possible that he noticed that handsome young liberals were badly outnumbered on the committee, and decided it was a battle worth avoiding. It’s also possible he was lazy.

Whatever the reason, his transformation this year has been remarkable. It began in early April when tax reform lobbyists approached Green and asked him to lead the effort to toughen up the oil and gas tax bill inside the committee. Surprisingly, he agreed to take the plunge.

The reformers worked feverishly to prepare the congressman for the coming battle, holding strategy sessions, peppering him with questions during mock press conferences and even, according to one source, feeding him jokes. To no avail. His efforts were crushed in committee and Bill Green was faced with another difficult choice: whether to let it go at that, or take the battle into the dark and treacherous swamp of parliamentary procedure, where many a young congressman has been eaten alive by his colleagues. Once again, he took the plunge. As soon as the bill was reported out of committee, Green went over Mills’s head and appealed to the Democratic Caucus. Theoretically, the Caucus is an important body. It includes all 247 Democrats in the House, has final say over who gets to be on the Ways and Means Committee, plans strategy and can order its members to vote a certain way. It also has the power to read Democrats out of the party if they balk at its directives; it can strip them of their seniority, and otherwise defile and defame them (as it did with Goldwater Democrats in 1964, and with Representative Adam Clayton Powell in 1967).

In early May, Green began collecting signatures for a petition to have the Caucus support his amendment to immediately abolish the depletion allowance. In short order he managed to round up 128 signatures (only 50 were needed to force a Caucus vote) and when it came to a test on May 15th, the Caucus supported it overwhelmingly. Even the New York Times hailed Bill Green as a hero.

Wilbur Mills didn’t like it all that much, though. For him, the Caucus vote took the issue beyond the realm of workaday politics — the Green Amendment was now a direct threat to his power as chairman. He couldn’t let just any congressman, especially a lazy kid from Philadelphia, come along and toy with his bills. So he sat on it for a month, refusing to take the bill to the Rules Committee while he plotted ways to foil Green and the Caucus.

In mid-June, he brought the oil tax bill to the Rules Committee with a novel twist: He wanted it reported to the floor completely free, with no limit on amendments or debate. The effect in the House would be utter chaos, with reformers and oil people offering all sorts of weird amendments and debate continuing for months. Faced with this bizarre proposal, the Rules Committee did the only rational thing it could do, unwilling as it was to defy either the Caucus or Wilbur Mills. It adjourned.

The oil and gas bill disappeared after that. Throughout the summer Green held periodic strategy sessions with the reform lobbyists to try to figure ways to get the bill out of Mills’s back pocket — the best they could come up with were angry letters to the House leadership.

Meanwhile, the Ways and Means Committee went on to consider a broad tax reform bill, and now the lobbyists began to earn their money. Every major industry wanted some tax break or other; the committee members were besieged. Jim Burke, an old, big-labor liberal from Massachusetts who looks like the classic hack with his hair plastered straight back and a big cigar, said in disgust at “one point: “The lobbyists are everywhere. They find me at breakfast. They find me in the halls. They send messages to my office. They stop by my house on weekends. They call my friends and try to have them talk to me….

“Last week, I asked a question at one of the hearings and 15 minutes later I get a phone call from some guy up in Boston who wants to know if I’m changing my position. I said, ‘How did you know I asked the question?’ and he says, ‘We keep in touch.’ You walk into that committee in the morning and you see 500 fat-cat lobbyists taking notes.”

Through July the hearings on the bill continued; mornings in the big room, afternoons in the closet. Complex sets of figures would fly through the air — it was difficult for even some members of the committee to understand what was going on. Wilbur Mills would preside, smoking Salem 100s which he held between his thumb and index finger like a Russian secret police investigator. His deep bass voice would seem like distant thunder, mumbling, “Now I think we can all agree on this position….” Occasionally a liberal would object, but Mills would mumble some more and the committee would move on to the next section.

Outside, the new morality was catching up with Richard Nixon. Hordes of reporters would trail Judiciary Committee members through the halls, hoping for even the slightest leak in the impeachment case. Inside the Ways and Means Committee, though, the old morality prevailed. The lobbyists were getting what they wanted: The securities industry got a big increase in the capital gains tax break; the real estate shelters were preserved; the cattlemen, railroads, movie industry, utilities all were taken care of.

As the hearings progressed, rumors began to spread that Mills was going to reintroduce the oil and gas tax package as an appendage to the general tax reform bill, which by now was becoming a special-interest grab bag. Too much money was flowing out of the treasury in the form of tax breaks, there were sugar plums for all constituencies, from the richest to the poorest. So Mills needed something to balance the bill off, something that would pump money back into the treasury and the tax on the oil companies would raise a lot of money.

August 2nd was a lot and sleepy summer Friday in Washington. Most of the government had left town; those who hadn’t were conducting the most urgent sort of business. Representative Charles Wiggins (R-California), for example, had an appointment over at the White House to talk about some new evidence that James St. Clair seemed pretty concerned about. At the same time, Richard Nixon was heading for Camp David with his top aides to discuss that very same evidence.

And up at the Capitol, in a small, sweaty room just off the House floor, the final touches were being put on the first draft of Wilbur Mills’s tax bill. The room was packed with lobbyists, staffers, a few reporters. The congressmen sat at a long table that filled most of the room. Sam Gibbons sipped a Coke; Jim Corman, the Hollywood liberal, introduced his new wife around; Jimmy Burke handed out packets of cantaloupe seeds (he had proposed a 7 percent tax credit on gardening tools to help “the little guy”).

Just about noon, Mills nonchalantly mentioned that he was tacking the oil and gas energy tax act of 1974 onto the broader tax reform bill. He’d talked to Russell Long over in the Senate, and thought the two bills “married together” had a good chance of passing….

“What!” stormed Charles Vanik (Dohio), who crystallized the problems of the liberals on the committee. He made a futile stab at looking distinguished, always wearing a black suit and black bow tie, and while his intentions were good, he just wasn’t clever enough to run with Mills. “Why…why…you can’t do that.” Mills looked very placid. Vanik continued, “That bill was reported out of committee….”

Mills continued as if Vanik hadn’t even spoken. Since it was too late to collect windfall profits taxes for 1974, he said, the depletion allowance section would start in 1974, instead of 1975.

Now the conservatives were up in arms. Joe D. Waggoner of Louisiana argued that the committee couldn’t pass a tax that was retroactive… “We’ve gone through eight months of this year,” he said. “The oil industry has proceeded on the assumption that there would be no taxes that would be imposed. This jeopardizes many transactions….”

Vanik again: “You can’t do this without announcing it. We need time to study it. You should have informed every member of the committee that …”

“Does the gentleman want an energy tax this year?” Mills interrupted, calmly but firmly.

Vanik sputtered, “Yes, but . . . but . . .”

“Well, this is the only way you are going to get it.”

They adjourned for lunch.

An hour later, Vanik was back at it, “How do you know this bill will get through and the other energy bill will not?”

“The other bill will never see the light of day,” Mills replied, still calm.

“How do you know that?” Green said, helping out.

“Because the senators have asked for it in this form,” Mills said.

Vanik again, “Many members of Congress have expressed support for the bill in its other form. They want the immediate elimination of the oil depletion allowance.”

Mills’s face was getting red. “Listen, I know what will get through and what will not get through. I have had many years of experience in dealing with the Senate in matters such as this. I’ve had more success in conference with the Senate than some members have had in getting votes through this committee.”

Vanik looked as though he had been slapped in the face. Mills had attacked him directly — such behavior was unheard of in Congress, especially from the normally unflappable chairman. Several reporters whispered that it was the first time Mills had ever lost his temper in public.

Now Archer was on the attack, fighting to keep the oil companies tax free in 1974. Mills was getting angrier, he shakily lit another Salem. Finally, he exploded. “Okay, let’s drop the whole thing.”

It was quiet at the table for a moment as the committee members considered the possibility of not passing even a fraudulent tax reform bill. Then, Joseph Karth, a liberal from Minnesota, mumbled, “No, if this is the best we can do, then let’s go ahead with it.” Several others members mumbled encouragement to the chairman. Mills surveyed his flock, a smile flickering, and said, “Okay, let’s proceed.”

But Green wasn’t through yet. He introduced his old amendment to immediately abolish the depletion allowance. It lost very quickly, on a vote of three to ten with liberals like Karth and Corman standing with the chairman…

“We’re doing a very foolish thing here,” Green said after the vote. “We’re defying the House Caucus and guaranteeing that there will be no tax reform this year.”

“The immediate elimination of the oil depletion allowance has no chance,” Mills repeated again.

“We’ll see,” said Green. “I’ll call another Caucus.”

“You do that,” replied Mills, “I’ll be there this time.”

“Where were you last time?”

“I was at the doctor,” said Mills, a little surprised by the effrontery of the lazy kid from Philadelphia.

“I happen to know you weren’t at the doctor,” Green pressed. “I happen to know you were right here in this room eating lunch.”

Mills, accused of lying by a junior member of his own committee, reacted very calmly. “Let’s vote,” he said, knowing now that he had the votes. The liberals like Karth and Corman and Gibbons would go along, realizing that to vote against this watered down grab bag of a lobbyist’s dream would seem like a very unliberal vote against tax reform to all the folks back home. The only votes against the bill would be the nuts like Vanik and Green, and the oil state congressmen like Archer and Waggoner. Mills had the liberals boxed.

The final vote went pretty much as expected, with Jim Burke the only other liberal to join Vanik and Green. And even he didn’t last too long on the side of the angels. The tally completed, Burke announced that he wanted to change his vote back. “I’m not gonna spend the rest of my lifetime explaining a ridiculous vote to my constituents.”

The entire room exploded with laughter.

There followed a completely absurd series of events:

Three days later, on Monday, August 5th, Richard Nixon released the new evidence which proved he’d been lying all along.

On Friday, August 9th, Richard Nixon was gone. A month later, in early September, the Ways and Means Committee members began working on the final draft of the tax reform bill…. They moved tentatively, waiting to see whether the new president would have any suggestions in the area of tax reform. The only suggestion Ford had was a 5 percent surtax on middle-and upper-class taxpayers, a suggestion Mills chose to ignore.

On October 7th, a speeding car without its headlights was stopped by national park police. A woman jumped out of the car into the Tidal Basin and began swimming toward the Jefferson Memorial. Inside the car, the police found Wilbur Mills, his face scratched, his glasses cracked, his breath reeking of champagne. He scurried home to Arkansas to fight for his political life, facing a serious electoral challenge for the first time in nearly forty years.

On November 5th, Wilbur Mills won reelection. But at the same time, liberal Democrats were gaining House seats all across the country. The Democratic Caucus, which Mills had defined just six months before, had about forty new members who were a lot more like Bill Green than Wilbur Mills.

The chairman returned to Washington realizing that when the Caucus met on December 2nd, his days as the most powerful man in Congress would be numbered. The Caucus could pack his committee with liberals by increasing the size from 25 to 35; it could order that he dilute his power by setting up subcommittees; it could assume control of the Committee on Committees, a Mills bailiwick that assigned new members to committees. No doubt, it would act in some way — and Mills had to do what he could to moderate that action.

By November 18th, when Congress returned for its lame duck session, most people had given up on the possibility of tax reform for 1974. There was only about a month left and the old bill (the marriage of the oil bill and the general tax reform) hadn’t even cleared the committee yet, much less the House, much less the Senate — where it would undoubtedly be subject to filibuster by the oil staters.

There was, however, the possibility that an abbreviated bill, combining elimination of the depletion allowance with tax breaks for the poor, could gather enough liberal support to sneak through. It was a long shot, and even if it passed, the chances were that it wouldn’t impress the Caucus all that much.

But Mills quietly asked the committee staff to begin redrafting the bill — which would come to be known by Mills’s colleagues as the Fanne Foxe Memorial Tax Bill — and that’s how Bill Green found out what was going on. “I came back to town on Monday,” he said. “And a member of the committee staff came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to have a really terrific week.’

The morning of November 19th, the day Fanne Foxe appeared nude in the Washington Star-News, was spent approving more than $2.2 billion worth of tax breaks for the poor. The committee also passed a tax break for the utilities that included $272 million over the next several years for AT&T. When it came time, the new Wilbur Mills cast a cosmetic vote joining Bill Green against the phone company, and in the minority.

The discussion of the oil depletion allowance was held over till the afternoon — and that seemed appropriate. All along, the big decisions and the roughest debates seemed to be taking place in the little room off the House floor where the afternoon sessions were held. And now the line of lobbyists seemed longer than ever, and the number of reporters had approximately doubled.

The debate opened with the committee staff offering three sets of options for the elimination of the depletion allowance. Herman Schneebeli, the Republican leader who had narrowly won reelection, argued in favor of Alternative Two, which would maintain the depletion allowance at 22 percent in 1974, then reduce it to 15 percent in 1975, 8 percent in 1976 and wipe it out finally in 1977. “To make the tax retroactive to January 1st, 1974, would be poor tax policy,” Schneebeli concluded. “I doubt if we’ve ever made anything retroactive.”

“Oh yes we have,” said Bill Green, now strong and confident. “When we instituted the depletion allowance in the first place, we made it retroactive to 1925.”

The fact that Green had done his homework so well occasioned a good bit of shock among reporters. “What the hell’s happened to Billy Green?” asked one. “He’s practically running this committee.”

The debate was continuing, kind of. It was meandering around, no one really willing to make a motion. “I’d be willing to make a motion,” Green finally said. “But that’s what everybody seems to want me to do…which leads me to believe it’s a trap.”

But there was nothing left to do but make the motion. For a few long seconds the table was quiet, then Green: “Okay. There isn’t a citizen alive in this country who thinks the oil companies are paying their fair share. It’s time we changed that. I move Alternative one: 15 percent depletion allowance in 1974, 0 percent in 1975.”

It was coming down to what everyone knew would be a close vote. Gibbons whispered over to Burke, “Where’s Vanik?” The Ohio congressman’s vote would be needed. But Burke apparently misheard Gibbons. “Fanne?” he said. “She’s up in Boston, playing to packed houses.” Neither Wilbur nor Polly Mills seemed to hear the exchange.

Vanik arrived and the clerk called the roll: Ullman, “Aye.” Burke, “Aye.” Griffith, “Aye.” Burleson, “No.” And down the line. When it reached Wilbur Mills, the vote stood at 12 to 12 on Green’s amendment, the very same amendment Mills had been fighting all year.

“Mr. Chairman?” the clerk asked.

“Aye,” said Mills.

The time was about 3:20 p.m. Green looked around the room — there were no great celebrations taking place, none of the reporters had rushed from the room to file the story, there was hardly a murmur…it was more of a massive exhalation. Ahhhhh….

Was it a trap?

Gibbons quickly called for reconsideration and Richard H. Fulton (D-Tennessee) moved that reconsideration be tabled — a parliamentary maneuver to insure that the vote on the Green amendment would stick. There was another vote, this one on Fulton’s tabling amendment. The vote failed, 12 to 13.

Was it a trap? Who’d switched his vote? It was quiet John Duncan of Tennessee, who’d spent most of the year listening and voting with his Republican colleagues. He’d bolted to vote for the Green Amendment. Now he had switched. Was it a trap?

Another vote. This one on Gibbons’s motion to reconsider — a “No” vote would support the Green Amendment. Duncan voted “Aye.” Reconsideration passed, 13-12. Still another vote. On the Green Amendment itself again. Duncan switched back, and the Green Amendment was passed once again, 13-12.

And now it was, in effect, all voted out — there could be no more votes on the elimination of the oil depletion allowance. After nearly fifty years, it was eliminated.

Except for the weakening amendments, Archer, who had carried the ball for the oil companies all year but had been very quiet all day, offered an amendment exempting the small independent oil producers on the grounds that since they do most of the exploring for oil, they should be encouraged to continue.

Green was back again. “There may be some merit to what Mr. Archer proposes, but I don’t think we have enough information to vote intelligently at this point. I think we should put it off until the next session.”

Archer and Green went at it then, back and forth, the young liberal and the young conservative battling it out as the old chairman watched them, a small smile playing on his face. The debate was pretty much a draw, and the ensuing vote was very much a draw, 11-11. Failing to win a majority, the amendment was defeated. Another victory for Green.

Wilbur Mills took it all very gracefully. For the next hour he chaired the committee as some technical sections were added onto the bill. The chairman didn’t seem like a man who had just broken with his longtime allies on a longshot gamble that he might make some new friends. Like so many important things in Congress, the transformation of Wilbur Mills had occurred quietly. The vote on the oil depletion allowance was, perhaps, the first signal of a major sea change in Congress — with the new, stricter campaign spending laws, the power of the lobbyists would be greatly diminished. They would still be filling the navy blue leather Chairs in the chandeliered committee room when the new session began in January, and they would still be able to win some concessions, but not as many as the old days.

And so Wilbur Mills sat there, holding his gavel, peering down the long table, at the end of an era. The meeting ended abruptly at 4:45 p.m., when the stenographer’s machine broke down.

On Saturday night, November 30th, Wilbur Mills made a surprise appearance onstage at the Pilgrim Theatre in Boston with his “protégé” Fanne Foxe. “This won’t ruin me,” he said. “Nothing can ruin me.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Oil, Politics, Richard Nixon


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