Clinton and Gingrich Have Learned to Govern

Article excerpt

The lesson from the last four years on Capitol Hill is that conflict does not automatically mean gridlock. The two Congresses that have met since Bill Clinton became president have seen as much partisan battling as any in modern times. But as many noted with some surprise when the 104th winds up business it will leave a legacy more substantial than might have been imagined.

From the budget that was passed in 1993 over unanimous Republican opposition to the one negotiated between the White House and GOP leaders over the weekend, major steps have been taken to reduce the annual deficits and reposition the United States for the challenges of a new century. Notable social legislation in areas of health, education, welfare and employee benefits was passed and, despite many threats, nothing was done that seriously undercut U.S. foreign policy.

That summary probably gives the legislative branch more credit than it deserves. Measured against the challenges this society faces, almost all the accomplishments except deficit reduction appear marginal or minimal. The core problems of a public school system that is failing far too many students, an urban underclass that turns to drugs and crime in the absence of jobs and a health-care system that squanders huge sums while leaving almost one-sixth of the people uninsured - all these remain substantially unaddressed. But if you focus on what was done - rather than what was left undone - a pattern appears that is rather striking. It is the story of two men who overreached, were brought down, and then found ways to recover. Put differently, it is the story of two parties that set out to enact ideological agendas, were punished, and then found their way back to the center of the political road. The two men, of course, are President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Clinton reversed course between 1994 and 1995; Gingrich, between 1995 and 1996. In the end, they have become more partners than antagonists, which is why the last four years on Capitol Hill became something more than an exercise in futility. In the euphoria of his election, Clinton in 1993 heeded the advice of his party's congressional leaders and tried to advance an ambitious domestic program on partisan votes. …


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