104th Congress Flinched Too Often

Article excerpt

Last year at this time the new leadership in the House of Representatives boldly spoke of "revolution." Speaker Newt Gingrich insisted that business as usual was out; fundamental changes in the way that Washington does business were in.

Against the suggestion that the Senate and President Clinton were unlikely to go along with such changes, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston retorted: "President Clinton is irrelevant and the Senate doesn't matter. Not one dime can be spent on a single program unless the House of Representatives okays the spending." Known as the one-house-veto strategy, this was the way Republicans were going to force an end to programs that they considered bad for the country.

What a difference a year makes. Gingrich may have fun cavorting with Jay Leno or acting as a substitute host for CNN's Larry King Live, but these days there is no talk of revolution. The rest of the Republican leadership tries to put a happy face on what happened with the budget process -- not an easy thing for them to do. That is because, on substance, Clinton won just about everything he fought for in the fiscal 1996 budget finally approved by Congress.

AmeriCorps, which is a device to pay volunteers to be active in politics, supporting Clinton and his friends, is still with us. The National Endowment for the Arts, despite its subsidies for pornographic art, is in the budget. The Corp. for Public Broadcasting, despite its ability to earn billions by marketing its own products, gets subsidized for an even longer term than in budgets approved by Democratic Congresses. The Legal Services Corp. is alive and well. Goals 2000, an attempt to federalize education and impose "outcomebased" methods on local school districts survived because Clinton fought for it -- and the Republicans were unwilling to fight against it. The Commerce Department, the Department of Education and even the Department of Housing and Urban Development are still with us.

True, this budget does cut more money from discretionary programs than even the Republicans had proposed when they put forth their seven-year balanced budget. So in that sense, the Republicans have a right to some credit.

The bad news is that the federal programs the Republicans sought to kill have been funded and will be funded again in the 1997 budget. If Clinton is reelected and if the Democrats take over Congress -- as well they might -- these programs will grow again and be right back where they were. Although most of them have been reduced significantly under the newly approved budget, the bureaucrats don't care. As long as they stay alive, as long as the infrastructure stays intact, they survive to fight another day. That is why the freshmen Republicans wanted to pull these programs up by their roots. …