WASHINGTON -- With the trappings of power normally reserved for presidents, Speaker Newt Gingrich went on national television last night to tell America the House Republicans' legislative success so far was merely a prelude to the battle ahead over remaking the government.
"This is the year we rendezvous with our destiny to establish a clear plan to balance the budget," Mr. Gingrich said in a 25-minute address from his Capitol Hill office. "It can no longer be put off."
Sitting on the edge of his desk, the Washington Mall visible through a window behind him, Mr. Gingrich looked strikingly presidential, and he took another bold step toward wresting control of the nation's agenda away from President Clinton.
Promising to wield a budget ax against "corporate welfare, subsidies of every special interest" and even defense, Mr. Gingrich called on Americans to support an effort he called vital to the nation's economic security.
"This change will not be accomplished in the next 100 days," he said, "but we must start by recognizing the moral and economic failure of the current methods of government."
It was a performance stage-managed in part by Michael Deaver, the celebrated image man for then-President Ronald Reagan. The Gingrich address even had a familiar Reagan-style touch: The speaker held up a letter written to him by a first-grader from Georgia, complete with a child's drawing of George Washington.
The speaker's address was the crowning moment of a week of public relations events by Democrats as well as Republicans, eager to make their case about how well the GOP has performed after taking control of Congress this year for the first time in two generations.
Spokesmen for both parties agreed on little except that the period had been remarkable and that many tumultuous months lie ahead.
"While claiming to place government on the side of working Americans over the past 100 days, the Republicans have shown their true loyalties: to the forces of privilege and power who need no help, and deserve no special favors," Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said in a televised reply to Mr. Gingrich.
Speaking from a classroom in an Arlington, Va., elementary school, Mr. Daschle said the Republicans had "hammered programs that provide opportunities for our children -- school lunches, college scholarships, education reform, student loans -- while sparing, and even increasing, government subsidies and tax breaks for the very wealthy and the largest corporations."
"There has been change, all right, but by and large, it isn't the change you voted for," he said. "Instead, it is America's middle-class families that are getting short-changed."
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Gingrich stood on the steps of the Capitol, a campaign video projected on a huge screen behind him, and punched the last hole in his laminated, dog-eared copy of the "Contract with America." He drew a rousing cheer from scores of Republican House members huddled around him and a crowd of several hundred onlookers.
The speaker's act signified that all 10 of the contract's legislative initiatives had come up for a House vote in the first 100 days of Congress, as the Republican House candidates had promised they would.
Nine of the bills were passed by the House and sent to the Senate. Two have already become law. Congress left for its spring recess early -- on Day 94.
"More than any other group in modern times, we campaigned on a promise, we worked on that promise, and we kept that promise," Mr. Gingrich said.
The tally includes legislation on welfare reform, legal reform, a regulatory overhaul, anti-crime legislation and a broad package of family and business tax cuts.
The toughest hurdles were two constitutional amendments: one requiring a balanced budget that died in the Senate, a second imposing congressional terms limits that failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority in the House.
Yet "this is only a beginning," the speaker added. "Our hope," he said, is that those early victories will allow the Republicans to return to Washington after three-week break and begin to work on a "bipartisan basis to balance the budget, remake the federal government, to start getting the job done for our children and our country."
Throughout the day, in a blitz of rallies and TV and radio appearances, Mr. Gingrich's colleagues joined him to rejoice at what they called a liberation of the American government from decaying Democratic political machine.
"It sort of feels like a birthday party," said Rep. Christopher Cox of California. "Today, I feel truly I have died and gone to heaven."
Democratic leaders acknowledged admiration for the Republicans' legislative efficiency, but they expressed outrage and contempt for the substance of many of the measures the GOP pushed through.
"Never before has so much been done, in so little time, to help so few, at the expense of so many," House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt said during a luncheon speech.
"The Republicans wanted this to be the hundred days that shook the world," he added. "And it was. . . . It has abused the Constitution, distorted the democratic process, and punished young children to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthy."
Mr. Gephardt, who also offered a televised response to Mr. Gingrich last night, struck what has been a common and successful theme for the Democrats, stressing the link between the tax cuts and money cut from welfare programs that was used to offset them.
President Clinton also assessed the GOP contract yesterday, threatening to veto elements of the legal and regulatory reforms if they are not changed by the Senate.
In a speech to the American Society Newspaper Editors in Dallas, Mr. Clinton specifically attacked a proposed new "loser pays" rule on civil law suits -- which he called unfair -- and a measure requiring property owners to be compensated for the loss of property value as a result of federal regulations.
Environmentalists have warned that the provision would end protection of wetlands and endangered species.