THE FIRST Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 40 years is into its final month wondering how it could have accomplished so much only to wind up in a political shambles. The GOP majority put its conservative stamp on the national agenda yet ended up so low in public esteem that it could be relegated to minority status once again in the Nov. 5 election.
Speaker Newt Gingrich, once the hero of militant freshmen, was ignored at the party's convention in San Diego. Two weeks later, in Chicago, President Clinton was celebrating a comeback launched when the public blamed Republican lawmakers for twice shutting down the government. Even when Republicans moderated their approach to pass compromise legislation, they were out-maneuvered by a White House that had replaced bumbling with agility.
Example: With time running out in mid-summer, Congress passed important welfare, health insurance, minimum wage and safe drinking water legislation. Result: Mr. Clinton staged glittering signing ceremonies and captured much of the credit to the chagrin of Republican incumbents.
Last week, eager to get home to the hustings, the Republican leadership dropped plans to push for a $122.4 billion tax cut. More than a Clinton veto was on their minds. There was fear that Democrats would accuse them of helping the rich while cutting food stamps for the poor.
Before adjournment by early October at the latest, Congress will focus on appropriations bills. There will be a few hot-button issues such as whether to build a national missile defense system, whether to ban family-planning funds in foreign aid, whether to allow states to prohibit same-sex marriages, whether to pass tougher anti-terrorism legislation. But these are small in scope compared to what was wrought by the Gingrich Revolution.
It revamped laws governing the fast-changing telecommunications industry, put American farmers on a path toward more free enterprise and less government, gave presidents the power of the line-item veto, changed the way Congress operates and succeeded in cutting billions from government spending.
Yet as Mr. Clinton "triangulated" to the right to set himself up for re-election, House Republicans were more remembered for their arrogance and over-reach than for accomplishments the president so skillfully turned to his own advantage. With Bob Dole trailing by 15-plus points in the polls, ideological GOP freshmen who said they would rather be right than re-elected could find that is their fate.
Pub Date: 9/09/96