Divided Government: Will It Work

The World and I, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Divided Government: Will It Work

As they consider their legislative strategies for this year and beyond, President Bill Clinton and the Republican majority in Congress must sort out the different messages of the 1996 elections.

Clinton was the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win reelection--and the first Democrat ever to be reelected with a Republican-controlled Congress.

Clinton won nearly 400 electoral votes and 49 percent of the popular vote, while voters were admitting, by 54-41 percent, that they did not consider the president to be "honest and trustworthy."

Republicans increased their majority in the Senate but saw their margin reduced in the House of Representatives. The AFL-CIO spent an estimated $35 million trying to defeat "extremist" members of Congress, but four-fifths of the 1994 freshman Republicans were returned to Washington.

As pollster Everett C. Ladd points out, over 60 percent of the voters said they favored smaller government, the same percentage as in 1994 and '95. A divided country produced a divided and limited government.

As reflected in his second inaugural address, President Clinton clearly got the message, promising smaller government and urging bipartisanship. House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke of cooperation rather than confrontation, while Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott stated the Senate would work with the president if he stuck to his conservative-sounding script.

But inaugurations are one thing and legislative action, six months or a year later, is quite another. Tensions are certain to rise between a president with an eye on his place in history and a Congress with its eye on the 1998 elections.

What are the two contending parties likely to do?

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