PRESIDENT CLINTON, a master-player at legislative poker, has once again walked away with all the chips. Left high and dry and broke are congressional Republicans. Many believe their divided leadership goofed on the disaster-aid bill for the stricken upper Midwest in much the same way it lost the battle for public opinion in the 1995 shutting down of the government.
At the insistence of hard-edge ideological conservatives, the leadership tried to load up the highly popular aid appropriation with two loser issues. One would have blocked computer sampling to prevent the undercounting of blacks and Hispanics in the next Census. The other would have mandated a continuing resolution to prevent another government shutdown in event of stalemate in the budget.
The first runs counter to professed GOP interest in minority voters; the second merely reminded citizens of how Republican insistence on a "Contract with America" agenda brought the government to a halt 18 months ago.
For critics, one did not have to turn to the Democrats. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, the GOP congressman from Maryland's Second District, described the debacle as "really flawed policy badly executed." "Why do we always have these lines in the sand and then withdraw?" demanded GOP Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey.
The fiasco exposed deep divisions among House Republicans, with Speaker Newt Gingrich and Appropriations Committee chairman Robert Livingston opposed to the bill-loading strategy and the Texas triumvirate of House majority leader Dick Armey, House whip Tom DeLay and Ways and Means Committee HTC chairman Bill Archer all for it. Mr. Armey came out of the negotiations claiming a victory in meaningless Democratic promises to study and debate the GOP hobby-horses. "I don't know how anybody in their right mind could think that," replied Rep. John Thune, a Republican from hard-hit South Dakota. Mr. Livingston sarcastically said his defeated GOP leadership had delivered "a perfect bill" stripped of amendments a successful Clinton veto eliminated.
The whole performance also dimmed the luster of Senate majority leader Trent Lott, who openly worked to execute a Republican retreat but then joined Armey & Co. in voting against the bill knowing Democratic votes would ensure passage. What appeared to irritate some in the Republican rank-and-file was that their party handed victory to a Democratic president hobbled on such other issues as China policy and adultery-in-the-military by his own personal and fund-raising history.
Will the GOP learn from this latest drubbing that the better way to deal with poker-master Clinton is through a shrewd, pragmatic, moderate course of action? Don't count on it.
Pub Date: 6/14/97