The Big Contract
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
---Dwight David Eisenhower
“As Republican Members of the House of Representatives and as citizens seeking to join that body we propose not just to change its policies, but even more important, to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.”
Thus Republican congressmen running for reelection and those challenging Democrat seats, signed on to a pledge to:
“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.”
Beyond the first day initiatives:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. THE CITIZEN LEGISLATURE ACT: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators.
The Contract with America prompted a great deal of talk. Most of it positive in nature. It also created the greatest reversal in congressional fortunes in sixty-four years. The Democrats lost fifty-four seats in the house and nine in the senate. In the first depression election year of 1930 Republicans lost fifty-three house seats and thirteen in the senate.
The congressional election of 1948 had a wild numerical swing but returned to Democrat control the following election.
Since my boyhood, I thought Republicans would never win the congress in my lifetime.
The mastermind of The Contract with America was Newt Gingrich, a conservative Republican former history professor from Georgia. During his time in the House of Representatives Gingrich was more than a mere annoyance for the Democrat leadership in the House. His efforts were also in part responsible for the downfall of Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth, Texas for financial improprieties. (Colleague Rush Limbaugh pounded away at “Fort Worthless Jim daily on hundreds of stations coast to coast.
Republicans last controlled the House of Representatives in 1952. 1994 became the first time it controlled both the house and senate in the same year in forty years.
Did they keep the promises of the contract?
The first eight measures dealing with house rules were implemented in their day one proceedings. A couple of the measures were later defeated, such as the rule requiring a three-fifth majority to pass tax hike legislation. All the others survived Democrat challenges from time to time.
Of the ten major proposals of the Contract with America, all were voted on within the first hundred days as promised.
Items such as a balanced budget amendment and line item veto authority for the president passed in the house. Presidential vetoes and senate rejections caused the defeat of the others. Term limitation received a majority vote but fell far short a two thirds majority necessary to amend the constitution.
The most serious battled by the Republicans concerned welfare reform. President Clinton had promised reform as part of his 1992 campaign but never promoted the idea after his election.
The Republicans held his feet to the fire. Yet Clinton’s slickness allowed him to take credit for the work congress had done.
The long term results of the reform is the number of people on welfare is still down dramatically more than ten years after its passage.
Quite possibly the two most important parts of the Contract were that it likely was the reason for the Republican takeover of the Congress and it placed the Congress firmly back in the driving seat of domestic government policy for most of the 104th Congress, and placed the Clinton White House firmly on the defensive. This dominance led to the first balanced budget since the Dwight Eisenhower years.
One other item the house passed but which did not go much further was an act to declare English as the official language of the federal government.
The bill would make certain:
Representatives of the Federal Government would conduct its official business in English.
No person would be denied services, assistance, or facilities, directly or indirectly provided by the Federal Government solely because the person didn’t communicate in English.
Every person in the United States would be entitled--
(1) to communicate with representatives of the Federal Government in English;
(2) to receive information from or contribute information to the Federal Government in English; and
(3) to be informed of or be subject to official orders in English.
The battle concerning English as the official language has turned to seeking a constitutional amendment.
As of 2006 it did not appear the amendment is going to be passed any time soon and it would face opposition from President George W. Bush and his allies in the congress. It has become linked with the battle to gain control with our borders, particularly the Mexican border.
We will expand significantly on the issue of illegal immigration in the Appendices of this book. We look at the border problems we have and the tens of thousand illegal aliens here already. How do we deport that number of people? We answer that problem.
I received a call from an old friend, an auto dealer on Boston’s beltway, Route 128. We had been friends since we had served in the campaign of Edward F. King, who sought the Republican nomination for governor in 1978. As usual the GOP conservatives in Massachusetts were matched up against a 400 pound gorilla. Frank Hatch was minority leader in the state house of representatives and had more than ample personal financing to bankroll his own campaign.
Because the amount of money a candidate has is not very important in a state convention and soldiers are, King defeated Hatch handily. The primary was another matter where we were outspent dramatically, more than ten to one. King obtained about 42% of the vote, which was good considering the opposition. It was the same year another King was in the process of defeating incumbent governor Michael Dukakis.
My friend was breathless. He exclaimed, “You’ve got to see this guy. Handsome, articulate, conservative and rich, very rich.”
The “very rich” guy was indeed tall and handsome and very articulate. But conservative, not even close. We have since learned this man is capable of appearing one way to one and another way to another.
Mitt Romney, who eight years later would become governor of Massachusetts. In 1994 he was a candidate for the United States Senate. His opponent, nor a 400 pound gorilla but the 400 pound gorilla’s father, Ted Kennedy. A daunting task indeed.
The youngest brother of former president John F. Kennedy, he had served in the Senate since the 1962 special election to replace his brother. (Just an aside, at this time he is making all the moves indicating he intends to seek
Romney is the son of former Michigan Governor George Romney, who had been president of American Motors, at that time a competitor with the big three of GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Romney has a Harvard MBA, receiving his degree from Harvard Business School and his law degree from Harvard Law School, with honors, the same year, 1975.
After leaving Harvard he became involved in the world of venture capital and made a large sum of money. He sat on the board of Staples during its early years and bailed out the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
During the campaign with Kennedy, Romney had a slim early lead. Kennedy’s negatives had begun to wear thin on him. Only because of his tenuous position in the polls he agreed to one debate with Romney.
Until the debate not much was known about Romney’s stance on the issues.
An incumbent who is wounded and has an early slump in the campaign the challenger can begin to sell himself to the voters. The challenger must sell himself to have a chance to oust the incumbent.
In U.S. Senate races it is necessary for the challenger to have everything work out perfectly. Any slip and the race is over. This race was no different.
As I recall, about three weeks before the election, Romney gave us a view I don’t think he expected us to have access to. During the Kennedy/Romney debate the senator went on the attack, a Kennedy trait in all contested matters.
Early on he attacked Romney because a failing company his investment company had purchased a business in Indiana. That business was in the process of being reorganized. The employees had lost their benefits such as health insurance before the Romney company came on the scene. It was a low blow from a man whose family owned company in Chicago, The Merchandise Mart. It employed many and none of them had benefits, including health insurance. Also the Kennedy family owned company paid most of its workers the minimum wage.
It was not until the debate that Romney became aware of Kennedy’s problem. In the debate he responded to the attack by pointing our they had just purchased a failing company and would take care of the insurance issue in due time. But the damage was done.
The next two issues were the fault of Romney and his liberal stance on two areas considered vital to conservatives. The abortion issue and tax cuts.
Kennedy is a dyed in the wool pro abortion supporter. He accepts partial birth abortion and rejects any type of parental notification. In short an extremist on the issue.
I’ve heard Romney waffle around on this issue for a long time. He began by explaining himself to an interviewer that he was somehow “Pro-Life” but, well Mr. Romney, but what?
In this 1994 interview he told of how, as a Mormon pastor or elder (I don’t recall which) he counseled a young woman who had been raped and found herself pregnant. He said then that is when he changed his political opposition to abortion. He, at that moment understood the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy and changed his political position to “pro-choice”.
Later in the book we will see how fluid his abortion position has been, first describing how he had learned the position from his mother who was a leader in Planned Parenthood (the world’s leading merchants of abortion) to the position he takes in conservative states like South Carolina where he is pro-life. His Massachusetts position on abortion merely “reflects the attitudes of Massachusetts voters.” If this all confuses you, consider the spin this gives my head.
On the issue of Ronald Reagan, Kennedy was again on his high horse and on the attack. He blamed all the ills in the world on the “Reagan years tax cuts for the rich”……. blah, blah, blah.”
Rather than take this opportunity to point out the JFK like tax cuts pushed by President Reagan led the economy into a sustained period of enormous economic growth, Romney caved in and said he disagreed with the tax cuts and “didn’t vote for President Reagan in the first place.”
That statement landed on the heads of conservatives like a nuclear blast.
I met him as he entered the WRKO studio to go on the show subsequent to mine on the following Saturday. I tried and failed to arrange for him to be on with me later in the campaign.
From that moment I did not as much as mention the Kennedy/Romney race. When I was asked my opinion on how I regarded Romney, I suppose I disappointed some, but I declared I would not vote for him. Until then I thought I’d probably vote for a “yellow dog” before voting Kennedy. I blanked the senate race on my ballot.
Romney lost 58% to 41% with a small number of write ins. I don’t recall how many blanked the race.
Meanwhile, Republican William F. Weld was being reelected with 71% of the vote.
Remember, 1994 was the biggest Republican year in decades.
Life did not run smoothly the second year of the Republican congressional majority.
The showdown between the congress and the White House came to a head in 1996 with the government shutdown.
At the heart of the conflict was a budget authorization that entitled government to spend money before it was there to spend. We could compare that to you always using a credit in all your spending. Buy now, pay later.
Government could have reopened, and run based on its current receipts. That would balance the budget immediately. Everyone says “we want to pay-as-you-go government”, but it was never suggested as an option. Debt was in their souls.
Supposedly the 104th Congress doomed itself when it shut down the government to force its budget priorities on the president. We heard that people were angry over the shutdown and insisted government be reopened.
Of course, that’s nonsense. Pure oomgalagala (a polite way Native Americans told someone they were full of bull). Talk show callers nearly unanimously supported the shutdown.
Shutting down the government was this Congress’s finest hour. The problem was they didn’t properly prepare for the inevitable response from the main stream media (MSM) and the bureaucrats. They were on the right track. It may have been the only principled act in two years of political compromise.
No one has ever produced a bit of evidence to show the government shutdown was as unpopular as the media claimed. It was asserted daily, but never proven. We all heard about how people couldn’t get passports and couldn’t get into Yellowstone National Park. But what’s most startling is that the central government--which consumes 40 percent of the national wealth, wasn'’ much missed at all.
The Congress battled the president from day one over the budget, social issues and other priorities. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republican of Georgia, was contentious to the very end. Despite days of back-room discussions, numerous items desired by one party or the other fell by the wayside.
Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to win approval for about three dozen judgeships and ambassadorships and to name a federal building in Manhattan for Ron Brown, the late Commerce Department secretary who died in a plane crash.
In return, Democrats quashed a GOP bill aimed at reducing paperwork and an effort to have a former Republican Senate aide become a member of the Federal Elections Commission.
The stonewalling on the judgeships came back much later as an issue in blocking the appellate judicial nominees of George W. Bush ten years later.
Despite all the gnashing of teeth that the congress had shut down the government the Democrats didn’t make much headway for returning to a majority in the House or Senate. 228 Republicans and 206 Democrats and one socialist/independent (from Vermont). Republicans lost one seat in the Senate and was aligned 55 to 45 for a Republican majority. The Republicans lost four seats in the house while they gained three Senate seats.
The GOP didn’t fare as well in the presidential race of 1996. There will be more on that election in the next chapter.