After Welfare: The Culture of Postindustrial Social Policy

By Sanford F. Schram | Go to book overview

1 Contracting America
The Cycle of Representation and the
Contagion of Policy Discourse

Since I took office, I have worked to craft a new social contract.

—President Bill Clinton, July 14, 1999

The “Contract with America” was proposed by Republican congressional candidates during the 1994 elections. A superficial campaign device, this conservative document became the basis for rewriting the liberal social contract that has served as the foundation of the social welfare state since the New Deal of the 1930s. Within the framework of the ephemeral “Contract,” Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. This law abolished the federal entitlement for poor families by repealing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program that was originally enacted with the Social Security Act of 1935.1While the significance of the 1996 welfare reform law is not to be underestimated, in many important respects the problems of the conservative Contract lie not with the fact that it promoted legislation that rescinded a program of sixty years' standing but rather with the way it has reinscribed the relations of power implicit in liberal discourse more generally. As reproduced in the New York Times shortly after the November 1994 elections, the “Contract with America” put forth ten promises made by Republican congressional candidates concerning legislative action they would undertake during the first hundred days of the 104th Congress. Here are the Republicans' promises “in their own words,” to quote the New York Times:
1. The Fiscal Responsibility Act: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an

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