Trying to Govern Positively in a Negative Era: Clinton and the 103rd Congress
On 20 February 1993, William Jefferson Clinton laid out his program in his first presidential address to a joint session of Congress. A multifaceted economic plan that included deficit reduction and an immediate stimulus package, health-care reform, ending welfare as we know it, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and comprehensive crime legislation were just the most prominent items on a big and ambitious agenda. All these and most of Clinton's other policy objectives required positive congressional action.
This chapter examines the relationship between Clinton and Congress, assesses the legislative record of the 103rd Congress, and attempts to explain both the successes and the failures. It also tries to explain the electorate's harsh judgment--a verdict that translated into an electoral catastrophe for Democrats in 1994. I argue that, while the skill of the participants does affect outcomes, structural and other contextual factors are much more important determinants of the character of presidential-congressional relations and of policy and electoral results.
Understanding the relationship between a particular president and Congress and the policy outputs that ensue requires understanding how incentives and behavior are shaped by the constitutional, institutional, and political con-