For almost 40 years, the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate. Then along came Bill Clinton. Like Obama, Clinton polarized America. Clinton’s brash attempt at Health Care Reform turned many away from the Democratic Party. In the mid-term elections in 1994, the Republicans swept both houses of Congress for the first time since 1953. Largely based on their “Contract with America”, the new Republican Congress would try to change government and sweep out Clinton in the process. Not all went as planned, but in the following years, government did change.
The story of the Republican Revolution begins with none other than Barry Goldwater. Most think it starts with Reagan, but back in the 1960s, Goldwater began the conservative movement within the Republican Party. A candidate for president in 1964, Goldwater’s sharp contrast to Lyndon Johnson did not go down well with Americans outside of Arizona and the deep south. Personally, Goldwater was more of a libertarian than would become known as a conservative.
A sharp move to conservatism began in the Republican party with the Halloween Massacre of Gerald Ford in 1975. In one fell swoop, Ford, his chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s aide, Dick Cheney, swept out the moderate wing of the party, and the remnants of Nixon cronies and replaced them with more conservative thinkers.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan came to embody the conservative movement. Reagan had a fantastic ability to speak about American values and how government was the problem. In reality Reagan’s inability to control legislation resulted in the largest deficits (at that time) in the nation’s history. However, the conservative movement continued to gain steam in the Republican Party. The conservatives, led by a group called the Religious Right, transformed politics as 150 years of the Democratic Party control in the south faded away in a matter of 10 years. Thus the base of the party of was born.
What created the rise of Republican anger that swept into Congress in 1994 was the reaction to Clinton’s attempt at health care reform and the growing federal deficit. Clinton, largely elected on George H.W. Bush’s failed campaign promise not to raise taxes, had been a disaster as President his first two years. Unbeknownst to many American, the Republican Revolution would change Clinton for the better as an executive.
The Republican’s swept into Congress largely on the outrage of Americans, much like the 2010 mid-term elections. But the 1994 Republicans also brought with them their Contract with America. It stated
On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:
- FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
- SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
- THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
- FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
- FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
- SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
- SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
- EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.
Thereafter, within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, we shall bring to the House Floor the following bills, each to be given full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote and each to be immediately available this day for public inspection and scrutiny.
1. THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out- of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses. (Bill Text) (Description)
2. THE TAKING BACK OUR STREETS ACT: An anti-crime package including stronger truth-in- sentencing, “good faith” exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty provisions, and cuts in social spending from this summer’s “crime” bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools. (Bill Text) (Description)
3. THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility. (Bill Text) (Description)
4. THE FAMILY REINFORCEMENT ACT: Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children’s education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in American society. (Bill Text) (Description)
5. THE AMERICAN DREAM RESTORATION ACT: A S500 per child tax credit, begin repeal of the marriage tax penalty, and creation of American Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle class tax relief. (Bill Text) (Description)
6. THE NATIONAL SECURITY RESTORATION ACT: No U.S. troops under U.N. command and restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding to strengthen our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world. (Bill Text) (Description)
7. THE SENIOR CITIZENS FAIRNESS ACT: Raise the Social Security earnings limit which currently forces seniors out of the work force, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let Older Americans keep more of what they have earned over the years. (Bill Text) (Description)
8. THE JOB CREATION AND WAGE ENHANCEMENT ACT: Small business incentives, capital gains cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages. (Bill Text) (Description)
9. THE COMMON SENSE LEGAL REFORM ACT: “Loser pays” laws, reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the endless tide of litigation. (Bill Text) (Description)
10. THE CITIZEN LEGISLATURE ACT: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators. (Description)
Further, we will instruct the House Budget Committee to report to the floor and we will work to enact additional budget savings, beyond the budget cuts specifically included in the legislation described above, to ensure that the Federal budget deficit will be less than it would have been without the enactment of these bills.
Respecting the judgment of our fellow citizens as we seek their mandate for reform, we hereby pledge our names to this Contract with America.
Some of the measures would pass, some would be altered, others radically changed, but many measures would not change. However, several changes occurred as a result. Conservatism was now “in”. From the south to great plains, a new America was cast. And for the past 16 years, it has not changed. What began with Goldwater, shifted with Reagan, was fully born with Gingrich and the Republican Revolution in 1994. The 10-point legislative plan aimed to reduce federal taxes, balance the budget, and dismantle social welfare programs established during six decades of mostly Democratic rule in Congress. Gingrich was feisty, sometimes controversial, but he knew he had somewhat of a mandate from the American people.
What the Republicans did not foresee were two changes on the horizon. The biggest change of all in America as a result of the Republican Revolution was Clinton’s governing style. As we used to say in south central Polo, “He grew a pair.” He stood up to Gingrich. And on one occasion, Clinton shut down the government rather than give in to the Republicans. Americans sided with Clinton.
The second change was with a computing and technology revolution, the economy boomed in 1995 and 1996. In the Presidential election, Republicans did not select the a candidate to challenge Clinton appropriately. As a result Clinton defeated Bob Dole and Ross Perot (for a second time). The Republican Congress continued to keep an eye on fiscal matters, and with Clinton, they both balanced the budget and created surpluses many thought would last a decade and the US would be out of debt by 2010. Yeah,…..that didn’t happen. By 2002, the Republican controlled Congress under George W. Bush had strayed far away from the roots of the Revolution. The Republicans were out of Congress after the mid-term elections in 2006. Over the last four Bush years, and Obama’s first two years, the largest deficits in our nation’s history occurred raising the deficit to a staggering 12 trillion dollars including 3 straight years of trillion dollar deficits with no end in sight.
It was no surprise to anyone that this past week, America responded by changing the course of the Congress. The Republicans took back the House but not the Senate. As to what will happen, neither party has control of anything. Gridlock may be the answer. Who knows? We may be having this same conversation in two years about how either Obama “grew a pair”, the Republicans wasted an opportunity, the economy grew or fizzled, or even the birth of a new political party. We will just have to wait and see. One thing is clear, Americans have had enough and want results.