Politics in An Era of Divided Government: Elections and Goverance in the Second Clinton Administration

By Harvey L. Schantz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

The Irony of the 105th Congress and Its Legacy

ROGER H. DAVIDSON AND COLTON C. CAMPBELL

On January 4, 1995, the 104th Congress burst “out of the blocks at a sprint.” For the first time in forty years, Republican majorities controlled both chambers, and the House was intent on acting within the first one hundred days on all ten items of the widely publicized “Contract with America.” Lawmakers spent marathon sessions voting on such things as constitutional amendments to balance the federal budget and impose term limits, the line-item veto, unfunded mandates, tort reform, and even internal rules—among other things, applying national workplace laws to Capitol Hill for the first time. Partisans filled the hours with hyperbolic language and debate over the ethics of each other’s leaders, principally President Clinton’s fund-raising practices and admitted ethical lapses by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Two years after the Republican revolution, the 105th Congress (1997-1998) promised quietude by comparison, beginning with what one observer called a “legislative lullaby.” 1 Republican leaders, plagued by narrow majorities, were unable to legislate effectively. In the House, skirmishes broke out among several factions; a rebel group of two dozen conservative sophomores variously vexed, criticized, and even publicly challenged the Speaker’s leadership. Voicing concern that their leaders had become too centrist, too willing to capitulate to President Clinton and the Democrats in budget negotiations, the dissidents even met with Gingrich’s four chief deputies in an aborted coup. 2 The solid Republican party organization and disciplined ranks that characterized the early 104th Congress were replaced in the 105th by a disorganized, disconsolate “team.”

It was this querulous Republican team that confronted President Bill Clinton, carried to reelection in 1996 by resurgent political fortunes, only to be mired in scandal throughout 1998. The president was able to strengthen his leverage in policy negotiations with Capitol Hill, according to Elizabeth Drew, by successfully “painting the Republicans as extremist

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