Editorial January 31, 2014



“Congress might be best to apply some tough love wisdom here…”

With the modifications to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 Congress might stop and consider what can be learned from the need to revisit that law. One insight might be that when government programs are privatized the cost of the program to the taxpayers increases.

We have heard for years that privatizing Federal programs is a cost saver because private industry is so much more efficient than the government, but recent reports on how that is going with school systems and prisons should give Congress pause to consider one of the overriding rules of privatization; that for-profit companies must make a profit so, after a period of time, they will have to increase the cost of the service or reduce spending.

Cost increases can be expected due to inflation and other market factors but reductions in spending are another thing; should private enterprise act to curtail spending by reducing services, then we should ask if a for-profit company, looking for profits, should have the authority to limit services, as the two examples above demonstrate, to school students, prisoners, or as the bill in question provides, insurance companies?

Part of the problem with the NFIP is that too many policy holders have built their homes in flood-prone areas resulting in repeat claims to repair or rebuild…in the same location. That and multiple hurricanes and flooding events has the NFIP about tapped out leading to the Biggert-Waters’ 2012 fix by shifting the weight to the private sector relieving taxpayers of those reoccurring claims. Insurance companies apparently have no interest in breaking even on those flood-prone properties as the rise in premiums demonstrate leaving Congress to iron out a stubborn wrinkle; cater to an economic class that tends to build NFIP protected residences very close to the ocean or scenic rivers or cut them loose.

Well, they tried that by cutting them loose to the insurance industry but, apparently, that didn’t go over very well. Congress might be best to apply some tough love wisdom here; if you want to build your home where it is at a high risk of damage or destruction, go ahead, but pay for the repairs yourself.

The First Evening Annual Message and How to Dress for It

January 03, 1936

Featured in this 1938 address to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt—the longest serving President in U.S. history—submitted a total of 12 Annual Messages to Congress.

Featured in this 1938 address to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt—the longest serving President in U.S. history—submitted a total of 12 Annual Messages to Congress.

The first evening Annual Message Collection of U.S. House of Representatives Featured in this 1938 address to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt—the longest serving President in U.S. history—submitted a total of 12 Annual Messages to Congress.

On this date, during the second session of the 74th Congress (1935–1937), President Franklin D. Roosevelt held the first nighttime Annual Message. Designed to reach the largest possible radio audience, the last-minute decision by Roosevelt to deliver an evening speech, spawned major media attention and heightened interest in Congress and the President. Modeled after his famous “fireside chats,” the address touted the accomplishments of the Roosevelt administration and the New Deal. Those in attendance marveled in anticipation of the nighttime address. Some questioned if formal wear was in order for the rare occurrence. When asked about her intended attire, Representative Florence Kahn of California stated she would wear “just exactly what I’d wear if he spoke in the daytime—street clothes.” The House Gallery filled to capacity nearly an hour before the start of the speech. “An uneasy tension held the listeners who packed the chamber…” the Chicago Daily Tribune reported. “Feverish applause and sudden gusts of laughter frequently interrupted the chief executive during the fifty minutes he held forth.” After the speech Members of the House commented on its content and themes. Speaker of the House Joseph Byrns of Tennessee remarked, “It very clearly sets forth the major issue of the coming campaign.” House Minority Leader Bertrand Snell of New York dismissed it as, “a political speech…and a political hippodrome.” The first President to address Congress at night was President Woodrow Wilson, who on the evening of April 2, 1917, asked a Joint Session for a declaration of war on Germany.

At the start of the second session of the 74th Congress (1935–1937), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt requested a Joint Session to deliver his second Annual Message. The January 1936 address was the first time that an Annual Message was given at night. It was only the second time that Congress assembled in the evening to hear a presidential address (the first being Woodrow Wilson’s request before a Joint Session for Congress to declare war on Germany in April 1917).

Between 1917 and 1936, evening attire had changed considerably. The fashion industry sought to bring the elegance of the silver screen to the masses, and with that came the innovation of ready-to-wear and rentable evening attire. As formal wear became more accessible, designers began to offer more comfortable styles as well as more fabric and color options. The tailcoat quickly lost ground as the more casual dinner jacket and evening gown grew popular. What resulted was a bit of confusion regarding what exactly entailed formal versus semi-formal evening dress, which made differentiating between “white tie” and “black tie” etiquette more essential.



With less than two days’ notice before the evening speech, questions flew through official Washington about dress etiquette. Members of Congress wondered what they should wear to a night session. A diplomatic protocol expert from the State Department recommended dressing “white tie” at first, but then advised Members to defer to the President’s choice of dress. White House sources speculated that the President would wear a business suit, but their only clue was his typical daytime outfit: a cutaway suit. Speaker Joseph Byrns of Tennessee said, “I suppose I’ll come along just as I opened the House.” As for his House colleagues, Byrns mused, “Some [Members] may not even put on a clean collar.”

As for women Members and women attendees in the House Galleries, a White House aide suggested they wear evening or semi-evening dresses for the occasion. Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas insisted, “I’m not going to wear evening clothes. It’s a business session.” Many women followed the lead of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who wore a “dark afternoon gown.” A reporter noted the “somber effect of the galleries” created by spectators’ dark suits and dresses. Speaker Byrns’s wife, Julia, however, broke the mold by wearing a burgundy red dress. Not to be outdone, Elinor Morgenthau, the wife of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., wore an olive green gown.

In the end, President Roosevelt, Speaker Byrns, and Vice President John Nance Garner of Texas wore frock coats. Most of the Members wore their working clothes (that is, business suits). Although function trumped fashion for most Members of Congress, news reports did note that a retired Member in attendance wore a tuxedo.

Sources: Washington Post, January 2, 1936; Washington Post, January 4, 1936. via House Clerk’s Office. Photo: Courtesy: House