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Gross, Harold Royce
(June 30, 1899–September 22, 1987)

–journalist and 13-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives—was born in Arispe, Union County, Iowa. Gross joined the U.S. Army in 1916 and served in the Mexican border campaign and World War I. After the war, Gross studied journalism at Iowa State College and the University of Missouri. He became a newspaper reporter and editor for various Iowa newspapers, and in 1935 became a newscaster for the new 50,000-watt radio station WHO in Des Moines. Throughout the Depression, "the fastest tongue on the radio" became known as an advocate for farmer

    In 1940 Gross left WHO to enter the Republican gubernatorial primary against the incumbent, George Wilson. Gross lost the nomination, but received the majority of the vote in Iowa's rural counties. He waited until 1948 to make another attempt at politics, when he succeeded in defeating Iowa's longest-tenured congressional incumbent, John W. Gwynn, in the Republican primary for the Third Congressional District. Even though the press labeled him a "leftist," Gross won the general election by more than 20,000 votes. He won every subsequent election, usually by a wide margin, until he chose not to run in 1974.

    Gross served on the Post Office and Civil Service committees, eventually becoming the second-ranking Republican of both. He also served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Manpower Utilization Subcommittee. In his 13 terms, Gross rarely initiated significant legislation, and no major bill bearing his name was ever passed, but throughout his congressional career he was known for his work ethic and nearly perfect attendance. He claimed to have read every bill that came before the House, which was substantiated by his propensity for pointing out embarrassing provisions and costly expenditures in open debate.

    Gross was deeply committed to limited government and vigorously opposed any increase in federal expenditures. He voted against spending bills no matter which party proposed them, including virtually all foreign aid; all of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" measures, including Medicare; and numerous congressional pay raises. In each Congress in which he served, Gross introduced legislation requiring a balanced federal budget and the gradual repayment of the national debt. Even though such bills had no chance of passing, his colleagues reserved for Gross's legislation the designation "H.R. 144," a rebus for "H. R. Gross."To explain his opposition to federal spending, Gross took pride in pointing to a framed quotation in his office that read, "Nothing is easier than the expenditure of Public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody."

    Gross was best known for stalling or blocking the legislative process. He routinely used his mastery of parliamentary procedures to lengthen debate, call for a quorum, or force House members to record their votes in order to subject bills to more careful scrutiny. His blunt style and biting sarcasm on the floor of the House won him few friends in Congress, but Gross seemed to revel in his role as a loner or curmudgeon. His critics called him the "abominable no-man," sometimes describing his parliamentary maneuvers as "negative, reactionary, a thwarting of progress."His admirers, on the other hand, referred to him as the "conscience of the House," the "watchdog of the Treasury," and the "American taxpayer's best friend."

    After retiring from Congress in 1975, Gross and his wife, Hazel, lived in Arlington, Virginia. He died at age 88 of complications of Alzheimer's disease.
Sources Gross's papers are held by the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa. See also James Leon Butler, "A Study of H. R. Gross and How He Gets Elected to Congress" (master's thesis, Iowa State College, 1956); David W. Schwieder and Dorothy Schwieder, "The Power of Prickliness: Iowa's H. R. Gross in the House," Annals of Iowa 65 (2006), 329–68; and Matthew T. Schaefer, "Harold Royce Gross (1899–1987) and the Curmudgeonly Side of Midwestern Politics," in The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, ed. Richard Sisson, Christian Zacher, and Andrew Cayton (2007).
Contributor: Spencer Howard