Republicans turn to daunting task of governing nation Mandate comes with responsibility, GOP leaders say ELECTION 1994

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The tide of voter anger that cost the Democrats control of Congress and the governorships of 11 states spared every GOP incumbent and gave the Republicans what they called an unmistakable mandate to lead.

But even as exuberant GOP leaders welcomed a new convert, Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, into the fold yesterday, they said that they have a big responsibility to do a much better job of governing than the Democrats have done.


"We won the election because I think the American people want to give us the opportunity," said Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who will return to the post of majority leader that he last held in 1986.

"If we say we've gotten the message and we don't produce, we'll get kicked out for a long time again."


Since no GOP members in the House, and only two dozen in the Senate, have ever been in the majority before, Mr. Dole is one of a relative handful who know what it's like to be in charge.

Those who do warn that the challenge will be daunting.

"We got a taste of what it was like to govern in the early 1980s, and it was a mouthful. It's going to be for the Republicans this time, too," said Michael Johnson, a former Republican congressional aide.

Nearly complete returns from Tuesday's elections raised the total of new House seats won by the GOP to at least 48 -- the largest gain for the Republican Party since 1946 -- giving the GOP control of the House for the first time in four decades.

The Republicans' dearest prize was the eastern Washington seat of veteran Democratic Rep. Thomas S. Foley, who became the first House speaker since 1860 to be tossed out by his constituents.

But other powerful, seemingly permanent, Democratic fixtures were swept away as well, including Rep. Jack Brooks, the colorful Texan who ruled the House Judiciary Committee with a firm gavel, and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois.

'A historic change'

"It is such a historic change that it's almost impossible to believe just how big it really is," said Rep. Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who is in line to become the new House speaker in January. Mr. Gingrich, whose confrontational campaign to unite and energize the party is largely responsible for the GOP victory, added: "I think it's going to take a while for it all to sink in.


Mr. Gingrich moved swiftly, however, to notify Mr. Foley yesterday that he had launched a "transition process" that will include an inventory and audit of House offices. He asked the speaker to take steps to "ensure that no documents, paper or electronic documents will be removed or destroyed."

With the party switch of conservative Mr. Shelby of Alabama, the GOP's gain of Senate seats grew to nine, giving Republicans a 53-47 majority in the new Senate.

Mr. Shelby's defection from Democratic ranks has been rumored for years, and followed a highly publicized spat with President Clinton last year over raising taxes. Mr. Shelby had voted infrequently with the Democratic administration on contentious tTC issues and had been courted for a decade by Republican leaders.

The senator told reporters at the Capitol that he had waited to make his move until after the Republicans gained control of the Senate, because "I wanted to strengthen their numbers for what they're trying to do."

But it wasn't clear yesterday just what the Republicans will try to do with their new power on Capitol Hill, and tension among the leaders of the GOP was already evident.

Mr. Dole ticked off a tentative agenda for 1995, including a balanced budget amendment, term limits, welfare reform and congressional reforms.


Contract for America

Many of those items were included in the "Contract for America," which Mr. Gingrich calls "our bible. . . . It is our guiding set of principles for the first 100 days, and it will be a template for what we do as a Republican majority in the months and years ahead."

But Mr. Dole admitted that he wasn't committed to every item in that package, particularly term limits for House members, which he fears could work to the disadvantage of lawmakers from small states who depend on seniority to advance.

Meanwhile, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who like Mr. Dole is contemplating a bid for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, seemed intent in setting the party's agenda himself.

He suggested that Republicans would seek across-the-board cuts in spending for housing, education, and health and human service programs. He also declared that the 1994 election had repudiated the efforts of Sen. John C. Chafee, a moderate Republican from Rhode Island who had sought to fashion a bipartisan approach to health care reform.

The Texan called Mr. Chafee part of the GOP's "little old bitty atrophied left wing," which Mr. Gramm made clear is out of step with the party's dominant, conservative majority.


Such intraparty saber-rattling not only annoys Mr. Dole, it also sends spasms through the liberal interest groups who woke up yesterday at least as horrified as the Democrats over Tuesday's election results. Liberal activists contended that an electorate frustrated over gridlock, crime and taxes had inadvertently elected a Congress that would turn back the clock on individual rights.

Worried liberals

"The way is clear for a serious rollback in protecting a woman's right to choose," author and feminist leader Gloria Steinem said in a statement. She said that anti-abortion legislators now represent a majority in both houses of Congress.

And the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force warned: "Pushing pro-active AIDS, health care, anti-discrimination and hate crime measures in an increasingly hostile environment will be daunting. At the same time, we will be fighting to fend off pro-active radical right measures."

Some Republicans expressed concern that pre-1996 presidential maneuvering within the GOP might block serious action on major issues in Congress over the next two years.

"When a party assumes the majority, you've got to quickly reposition your way of thinking," said Thomas C. Griscom, who served as a top aide to Republican Howard Baker of Tennessee, when he became Senate Majority Leader in 1981.


"You've got to get out of a mode of just reacting and responding and be prepared to set the tone."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democratic leader from Maryland, noted that Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Dole have both made conciliatory statements about working with the Clinton administration on a bipartisan basis. "But I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

Test of cooperation

The first test of cooperation will come when the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) comes up for approval during a special lame duck session of Congress at the end of this month. The outlook for passage appears doubtful, according to congressional officials. Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich both support the agreement in principle but have begun mentioning technical problems that could be an obstacle.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich, the speaker-in-waiting, is following through on the internal reforms he promised to enact during the campaign. The size of House committee staffs will be cut by one-third, with the ax falling exclusively on aides to the Democrats.

Mr. Gingrich also will consolidate and streamline the huge maze of committees and subcommittees in the House, to the disappointment of Republicans eager to finally assume the reins of leadership.


"We're going to lose a lot of institutional memory when those Democratic aides go," said Benjamin Wu, Republican counsel to the investigations and oversight subcommittee for Science, Space and Technology.

"That's really too bad, because those of us in the minority have never had to do more than just criticize what the Democrats offered."