Institutional Change in the 1990s
NO ACCOUNT of congressional institutions would be complete without addressing the major changes wrought by the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995. This epilogue briefly discusses the Democratic difficulties preceding the 1994 elections and the implications of the resulting Republican “revolution.” 1
When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Democrats had good reason for optimism: for the first time in twelve years, the party controlled both the White House and Congress. Furthermore, congressional Democrats had built a party leadership apparatus in the intervening years that appeared capable of shepherding through a major presidential program. However, the 103rd Congress produced a much different outcome.
From the outset, Democrats were plagued by dissension on both procedural and substantive matters. Newt Gingrich and his allies' persistent attacks on the House as an institution had continued after Wright's 1989 departure and took a heavy toll on Wright's successor, Thomas Foley (D-Wash.), and the Democrats. Foley's inability to quell the House bank and post office scandals led some Democrats to doubt both his effectiveness and existing institutional arrangements. As Dodd and Oppenheimer (1993, 48) point out, it appeared that “the scandals had the potential to undermine the power that had accrued to the party leadership since the late 1970s.”
Party members' rebellious spirit first emerged in January 1993, when one-third of the Democrats surprised the leadership by joining with Republicans to deny funding for the Select Committee on Narcotics. By March, Democratic leaders conceded that they lacked the votes to preserve funding not only for the Narcotics Committee but also for the Select Committees on Hunger, Aging, and Children, Youth and Families (CQ Almanac 1993, 13). These committees had provided useful positiontaking platforms for their Democratic chairs.
Conservative Democrats and Republicans also defeated six special rules in the 103rd Congress, a dramatic contrast to the Democrats' successes on these votes in previous sessions. In addition, the Conservative Democratic