Act IBoth Your Houses takes place in the House Office Building in Washington, D.C. The first scene is set in the office of the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Marjorie Gray, the daughter of the chairman and also his secretary, is talking on the phone to Alan McClean, a young congressman from Nevada. She is joined by an older secretary known as Bus. Bus announces that she has been fired by her boss, Eddie Wister, who has hired a pretty, inexperienced secretary provided for him by a steel company.
Throughout the scene, various persons pass through the office discussing the upcoming vote on H. R. 2007, an appropriations bill that designates millions of dollars for a new dam in Nevada. Many congressmen have been trying to get their special interests attached to the project, either to support their own investments or to appease their voters. Marjorie’s father, Simeon Gray, is struggling to keep the size of the bill reasonable without losing the votes that he will need to pass it.
Alan McClean arrives too late for an appointment with Gray. He explains that he wanted to tell Gray that he opposes the bill, even though his district would benefit from it; the contractors’ estimates for building the dam are much too high, and all of the other expenditures that have been added to it make it a huge, unnecessary cost to the taxpayers.
In the second scene, in the room where the committee is meeting, Simeon Gray is rejecting one amendment to H. R. 2007 after another. His colleagues are disappointed when their pet projects are cut from the package, but they are willing to go along with their leader. One measure is explained to be necessary to keep the support of the Non-Partisan League and the Farmer-Labor contingent, but Gray strikes it from the bill as being too costly. Alan enters and explains his opposition to the bill, adding that he has found out through private investigators that some of the politicians will benefit personally from these appropriations, a statement that causes general amusement. After the meeting breaks up, Alan tells Gray that he found out from some papers mistakenly given to him by his investigators that a penitentiary to be paid for by the bill is in Gray’s district. Even though Gray says he was not aware of this, he admits that his support of the bill would look like graft.
Alan explains his frustration with the committee to Bus. She tells him that his own secretary has been spying on him for other politicians, so he fires his secretary and hires her.
Act II Scene i of the second act takes place three days later. Sol Fitzmaurice enters and tells Marjorie that, with Alan’s leadership, the independent factions that had their projects removed from H. R. 2007 are close to having enough votes to stop the bill. Congressmen Eddie Wister, Levering, and Wingblatt enter, discussing their efforts to gather support for the bill and Alan’s successes with the Non-Partisan League. They ask Gray to add more money to the bill for special projects that will make the dissenters happy, but he tells them that that will only make the president more likely to veto the whole bill. When they’re alone together, Eddie asks Gray for fifteen million dollars to be added for decommissioning two battleships, a move that will benefit his supporters in the steel industry. He hints that he knows about Gray’s interest in a bank that will be saved from failure by the penitentiary the bill provides for his district, revealing that the...
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information Alan got by mistake was requested by a steel company chairman. Gray is blackmailed into supporting the extra appropriation.
Alan and Bus discuss the concessions that he has had to make in order to gain opposition to H. R. 2007. He tells her he had to ‘‘pledge myself to an increased tariff on lumber and an increased tariff on wheat, a new system of landbanks, an embargo on circus animals—including Siamese cats!’’ He decides that it would be more direct to approach Sol, who earlier made a speech about having been an idealist in his youth, and try to get his support. Sol acts sympathetic but resists Alan. Their conversa- tion gives Alan an idea, though; he decides to load the bill with so many special requests that the other congressmen will be embarrassed to ask for so much tax money.
The second scene of act II takes place in the committee room. Some representatives are complaining that special projects they favored were cut from the bill, while other projects, such as Eddie’s expensive battleship appropriation, were spared. When Alan enters the room, he has a list of all of the appropriations that have been proposed for the bill throughout its history, and he recommends that they all be added, raising its cost from 40 million dollars to 475 million. The committee members each see the chance to get the appropriations they wanted, even though Gray can see that such a bloated bill will only gain them public ridicule and will be vetoed by the president.
After the meeting, Gray talks to Alan about the bank in his district, explaining that, while he does stand to profit personally, the more important thing is that the people he represents need the proposed penitentiary project to ease their poverty. After Alan leaves, Gray explains to Marjorie an even more pressing interest: the bank has lied to its auditors, and if it closes this lie will be found out. Gray, as a member of the board of directors, could go to jail.
Act III Scene i of the third act takes place three days after the previous scene. The committee members, including Wingblatt, Peebles, and Dell, discuss the work they have done to have H. R. 2007 approved by the entire House of Representatives. Joe Ebner, one of the people who is enthusiastically opposing the bill, tells them that the opposition will stand behind Alan. Sol manages to talk some members into changing their votes so that the bill has the majority that it needs to pass; however, the president has promised to veto the bill, so it needs support from at least two-thirds of the representatives. Sol talks to Alan about the way the government is run, telling him that defeating the bill will ruin his effectiveness in Congress and make it impossible for him to help anyone ever again, but Alan stands by his principles. Marjorie tells Alan about the threat her father faces if the bill fails. He considers what she says, not wanting to harm Gray, whom he admires greatly, but in the end he decides that a matter of principle is more important than any one man, and he must therefore vote against wasting the country’s money.
The second scene takes place after the vote has been taken. H. R. 2007 has passed the House with more than a two-thirds majority. Passage in the Senate, after such a strong showing in the House of Representatives, is certain. Instead of stopping a forty-million-dollar expenditure, Alan has assured a waste of tax dollars that is more than ten times greater. The committee members are ebullient, singing and planning a large dinner celebration, and they thank Alan for creating a bill that serves them all. Allen is outraged. Even in defeat, he stands by his principles and threatens to go to the press with the story of how much the various congressmen stand to gain from this huge appropriation. The old established politicians do not worry, certain that the public outrage will blow over.