Triumphs & Traps; What's Ahead for Conservatives

Article excerpt

What do the 1996 elections tell us about where the American people want the country to go? Is the country still shifting toward conservative government?

What are the greatest opportunities now to advance the conservative agenda in the Congress? And what can conservatives in the 105th Congress learn from the successes and failures of the 104th Congress?

What are you most worried about in a second Clinton term, and how can con- servatives fight the most dangerous liberal initiatives?

Policy Review: The Journal of American Citizenship posed these questions to 24 conservative political and intellectual leaders.

Dick Armey

When the American people gave Republicans the majority in both houses of Congress in 1994, many journalists and pundits called it a sea change, a transformation of the political landscape brought about by an upsurge of voter discontent.

In 1996, President Clinton was re-elected on a campaign platform that echoed much of the GOP agenda, and Republicans retained their majorities in both Houses for the first time since 1928. It is clear that American politics and government are being transformed not by sudden upheaval, but by the steady current of common-sense conservatism.

There is no longer any question that the nation wants smaller and more effec- tive government, lower taxes, and a return to the values of freedom and responsibility. Exit polls from the election show that more voters identify themselves as conservative than liberal by a margin of almost two to one.

It is now up to elected officials on both halves of the political spectrum to fulfill the expectations so clearly expressed by American voters. Both presidential candidates campaigned on conservative principles, as did most winning candidates for House and Senate seats, Republican and Democrat alike.

One of the first priorities of the 105th Congress will be to work with the moderate Democrats who campaigned on conservative principles. Since the elec- tion, I have made more than 30 calls to the more moderate of the Democratic members of Congress to invite them to work with us on reforms at a pace the president can handle. We learned in the last Congress that Bill Clinton can't take change in big doses, and we'll continue to reduce wasteful Washington spending and unnecessary government programs, although at a somewhat slower pace.

The American people returned a Republican majority in both chambers in part because they know they can trust Republicans to hew to a conservative path and hold Bill Clinton to his campaign promises. One priority of the next Congress will be to help Bill Clinton keep the promises he has made to the American people.

Last year, Bill Clinton responded to the conservative call to balance the budget by promising voters a balanced budget with family tax relief.February. We will thoroughly examine the president's budget to ensure that it lives up to the promises he made during the campaign. Now that the GOP has retained a majority in the House and increased its majority in the Senate, the president will find it difficult to back out of a real balanced budget agreement. And with the addition of two more GOP Senators, the American people are virtually assured passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment in the 105th Congress, perhaps even with the president's support.

The president has promised to get tough on crime and drugs, two of the biggest threats to America's families. The Republican Congress will make certain that crime stays on the top of the president's post-election agenda, and that dur- ing Bill Clinton's second term the nation will take the necessary steps to stem illegal drug use among our children.

Bill Clinton also promised to save Medicare from bankruptcy without imposing any untenable hardships upon Medicare recipients. As the polemics of this last election showed, Medicare can be used as a powerful political tool, but we will ensure that the long-term solvency of the program and the needs of Medicare recipients will supersede politics. …