REVOLUTION ON HOLD
SEPTEMBER 30, 1996
A marathon of negotiations between Republican leaders and the White House this weekend resulted in a comprehensive spending bill that brings to an end the tumultuous session of the 104th Congress. Republicans decided the dramatic cuts talked about in 1995 would have to wait. Kwame Holman reports on the last days of the 104th, and Margaret Warner reviews the drama of the last two years with Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution, and Ronald Elving, the political editor of Congressional Quarterly.
MARGARET WARNER: With the election just five weeks away how this current Congress is perceived could well determine which party controls the next Congress. We get two perspectives now on how the two congressional parties are positioning themselves for the election. Welcome, gentlemen. Tom Mann, starting with you, weíve heard comments on the civility of last nightís debate. To what degree do you think on a substantive level what we saw last night has actually been reflected in the way the two parties have dealt with each other in the last few months in Congress?
A RealAudio version of of this NewsHour segment is available.
Kwame Holman looks at the last days of the 104th congress.
In the PBS DEBATE NIGHT Special, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott(R-MS), Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich(R-GA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle(D-SD), and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt(D-MO) debate the successes and the failures of the 104th Congress .
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of the 104th congress and the 105th congresses.
Sept. 20, 1996:
Two Congressional watchers analyse the election races.
Browse past Shields and Gigot reviews of the 104th congress.
THOMAS MANN, Brookings Institution: Well, I think itís an accurate reflection. The Republicans are desperate to run for reelection on the second part of the 104th Congress, the part in which they saw the prospect of their hanging in the election and turned to compromise and pragmatism and produced a very impressive list of legislative accomplishments. The Democrats want to run on that initial Republican majority of revolutionary fervor, of government shutdowns, of cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, education and the environment. And so what was going on last night was strategic positioning by each of--each of the parties. I think they did it well. The Republicans say, look, we can work effectively with this President; a lotís been done. And the Democrats are saying, but, remember the shutdown, do you promise not to do it again, and what do your tax cuts mean for Medicare?
RONALD ELVING, Congressional Quarterly: Remarkable how the approval of Bill Clinton seems to have increased in value in the last couple of years. Last night we actually heard the Republicans saying that 14 of the things that Bill Clinton took credit for in his presidential acceptance speech in Chicago were things that they had done, whereas, the Democrats, when they controlled the Congress the first half of Bill Clintonís term only got five mentions in the Presidentís acceptance speech. A remarkable thing that the Republicans would be taking credit for that. But thereís a lot of public research in recent weeks on what people think of this Congress. And itís remarkably even. A remarkably even equal number of people think itís been a success, and think itís been a failure; itís very closely balanced. And I think you could hear that last night in what the Republicans were saying. You heard both Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich talking on the one hand about renewing their critique of government, they hate taxes, they hate spending, but then putting a very human face on it by talking about their mothers and their in-laws on Medicaid--Medicare.
MARGARET WARNER: So if you watched this last night and you were sitting at home, --do you think you got a pretty clear view of these two parties and what theyíre promising for the next Congress?
MR. MANN: Well, we see that the parties are willing to trim their excesses and move more toward the center, to be more pragmatic, and even occasionally bipartisan. But what we didnít get any hint of is what will end up on the desks of the Congress and the President after the 1996 elections. The talk, for example, about Medicare was unrealistic. We face some--
MARGARET WARNER: From both parties?
MR. MANN: From both parties. We face some very interesting questions. You can either call it cutting entitlements or you can call it saving social insurance, but the demographic pressure from the retirement of the baby boomers is going to force our next leaders to begin to grapple with those issues. We didnít see really a hint of that. This was more Iím afraid strategic positioning for the election than it was giving the public a hint of the kind of issues that are going to have to be grappled with next year.
MARGARET WARNER: Now when Trent Lott said last night, the Senate Majority Leader, he said, we, Republicans, we delivered, or weíve produced. We just saw him on the taped piece. Is that true, Ron Elving? I mean, to what degree have they produced, and in what way?
MR. ELVING: Well, there are two different ways of looking at that. The first is that theyíve delivered on their initial agenda, the Contract with America. Newt Gingrich is claiming 65 percent of that rather complex contract was eventually brought into law, and, in fact, in the House they passed all but one small element of it, which was term limits. And that one thing did not get through even the House, but they did have a degree of success with that not only in the House but in eventually compromising it through the Senate and getting President Clinton to sign quite a bit of it. But thereís a second kind of delivery that they were also selling last night, and thatís reflected in some of the compromises weíve seen recently. People have already talked about the Kennedy-Kassebaum health insurance bill, welfare reform, immigration reform that got sneaked in the last few days. We got a safe drinking bill; we got, uh, minimum wage.
MARGARET WARNER: Minimum wage.
MR. ELVING: A remarkable number of things that would not sound like Republican legislation have been done in the last few months through cooperation between those leaders we saw last night and most importantly through the acquiescence and in some cases the tough negotiating of the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: And when you look out at campaigns that various members are running out there, Republicans, are they running on the accomplishments of the contract, that is, as revolutionary still, or are they running as chastened compromisers?
MR. ELVING: Well, thatís that equal, equilibrium again between the number of people who think this Congress is good and the people who think this Congress is bad. The Republicans need both halves of that mind. They need the people who loved the first part of the Congress but even more, they need to make the sale to the swing voters who are more comfortable with what theyíve seen in the last couple of months.
MR. MANN: And in the swing districts, youíre not hearing about the "Contract with America." Youíre not hearing about the budget effort of last winter. Youíre hearing about the legislation that was passed. Now the one piece that fits with the initial Republican agenda is the welfare bill. There, there are grounds for bragging and credit taking and certainly many Republicans and Democrats are claiming credit for that piece of legislation, but I think overall you have to argue that itís not the initial Republican agenda symbolized by the Contract with America that led to the legislative productivity of the 104th Congress. It is the turning away from that agenda and beginning to work with this Democratic President and Democratic members of Congress that produce this bountiful harvest.
MARGARET WARNER: But then where does this picture of a Democratic President and a Republican Congress who can deliver, where does that leave the congressional Democrats in this election, and what could you say about their strategy last night?
MR. MANN: Well, theyíre squeezed out a bit, quite frankly, because the more the public feels as if this President and this Congress are working together constructively, the less incentive they have for throwing the rascals out. And weíre seeing already thereís much less anti-incumbent sentiment, ratings of Congress are going up a little bit. I think Democratsí hope is to play the Medicare issue and to hope Bill Clinton runs up such a large margin over Bob Dole that the extra Democratic loyalists pulled to the polls will tip the balance in enough swing districts to put them in the majority.
MARGARET WARNER: So when we looked at the Democrats these last few months--I mean, they had another option, didnít they? They could have kept pushing harder and harder, making it hard for Republicans on the Hill and the President to come to a deal, but they didnít.
MR. ELVING: Well, but they donít really have the votes to prevail, particularly not in the House, so itís a much smarter strategy since theyíre all interested in reelection too, just like the President and the Republicans, to take care of the first business first, and thatís essentially what they have done. But Tom is absolutely right. There was an awkward spot last night, and that was the straddle that we saw them caught in; they had to, on the one hand, take credit for everything the President did, but they couldnít be too happy about everything that had happened. And the odd thing--
MARGARET WARNER: They couldnít be too happy with the Presidentís partners--
MR. ELVING: Thatís exactly right, and the final irony of this is that we seem to be coming down to a situation where the Democrats have to recognize in the House and Senate that the voters are--we seem to think that the voters are pretty happy with the second half of this Congress and the second half of this presidential term, and in other words, in neither case are they happy with what the Democrats in Congress are pushing for, which is a new Democratic majority in the House and in the Senate.
MARGARET WARNER:And very briefly, what of the Republican strategy weíve just talked about and saw, where does that leave Bob Dole?
MR. MANN: It leaves Bob Dole out. His whole strategy was to use issues in Congress in a way that the President would be forced to veto bills that Bob Dole could then run on. Long about late spring, uh, early summer, the congressional Republicans realized that the presidency was a long shot but they could take some steps to begin to build the record of achievement that would keep the Republicans in power in Congress and thereby keep their long-term partisan realignment alive.
MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, you agree, this leaves Bob Dole out?
MR. ELVING: Better to deal with the devil than an ultimate defeat and a total defeat, and that was essentially the set of choices that they saw in the dead of summer. Since then, I think Bob Dole has revived his candidacy somewhat, and there is an alternative strategy, but itís very tough to turn that boat around at this point.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both very much.