Published in 1994 by Littlefield Adams Quality Paperbacks
"Bombthrowers" vs. "Responsible Partners in Governing"
One party leader put the "great divide" among House Republicans in these terms: "The cleavage is between those favoring confrontation, the risk-takers, and the responsible partners in governing." He added: "The public would be startled to discover how nonpolitical most members of Congress are ... for them there is a disconnect between politics and government. " He proudly proclaimed, "I'm a politician." The confrontationists, or "bombthrowers," insist their approach serves a constructive purpose: through "confrontation, confrontation, confrontation" and by "polarizing issues" they "sharpen the differences between the two parties." Theirs is an ideological politics of combat.
The bombthrowers frequently attack the majority's record, and Democrats accuse them of being anti-Congress. In response to such criticism, Gingrich said: "No, I'm anti-corruption, and I'm anti-Democratic control. I'm pro-Congress. " He rebuffed his critics' charge that he wants to destroy the institution:
No, only if they define the institution as corrupt and Democratic. I mean, if by the institution they mean the current model of Democratic control of the House, the current one-sided control of the Rules Committee, the current rigging of the rules, the current liberal domination of scheduling and the current one-sided stamping on behalf of the Democrats, then yes, I'm interested in breaking up the Democratic monopoly of power.
Although some of Gingrich's allies distance themselves from his ethics battles, many share his anti-establishment perspective and speak the language of outsiderism. One said: "What we need today is Ronald Reagan in 1980. The result could be a huge partisan victory based on an antigovernment, outsider campaign." Another called the Democratic Congress "the single most reactionary institution in the country today." The bombthrower wing took organizational shape in 1983, when Gingrich and other junior Republicans formed the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS), a group devoted to sharpening partisan distinctions on the House floor. During the next couple of years, COS gained attention for its C-SPAN-broadcast "special order" speeches damning Democratic leaders. Though some observers initially dismissed COS, it left an impact on the GOP. By 1989, half of the eight elected Republican leaders were COS veterans.
Over time, some of the original COS figures became less active in the group as they went on to GOP leadership posts. Others were elected to the Senate (Connie Mack of Florida and Dan Coats of Indiana) or other offices (Dan Lungren of California became the state's attorney general). By the 102nd Congress, COS's active membership consisted mostly of lawmakers who had entered Congress since the group's founding. Although the COS membership list is confidential, interviews and observation suggest that the active members included the following: Chairman Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky, elected to Congress 1988), Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia, 1978), Cass Ballenger (R-North Carolina, 1986), Mel Hancock (R-Missouri, 1988), Toby Roth (R-Wisconsin, 1978), Andy Ireland (R-Florida, 1976), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona, 1986), Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming, 1989), Robert Walker (R-Pennsylvania, 1976), Christopher Cox (R-California, 1988), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida, 1989) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-California, 1988).
In recent years, COS has concentrated less on C-SPAN speeches. Instead, working with deputy whip Walker, it has focused on floor debate and parliamentary tactics. According to one former aide, COS members believe they made a significant difference in the repeal both of catastrophic health insurance and of Section 89 of the 1986 tax overhaul (dealing with employee benefits). In the 103rd Congress, under the chairmanship of John Boehner (R-Ohio), COS fought the Clinton budget proposals by supporting a bold spending-cut plan offered by John Kasich (R-Ohio).
COS has not been the only organized group within the GOP. The 92 Group, named for the year of the hoped-for GOP majority, aimed to make Republicans responsible partners in governing. The 92 Group was organized in 1985 by Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Tom Tauke (R-Iowa), and about three dozen other Republicans, with the idea of providing a counterweight to COS. As Tauke explained: "There is a difference of opinion on strategy. One school says to let Democrats sink in their own soup. Others say the best way is to clarify our own position ... I think that it is important to clarify our own view." An aide to a 92 Group member was more blunt: "We needed a more thoughtful approach than just scream and yell on the floor."
The 92 Group tried to redefine the GOP image by drafting proposals that might pass the House. Its bent was best captured by a 1985 comment from Carl Pursell (R-Michigan). The group had drafted a budget that would curb spending while avoiding wholesale termination of social programs. "Good news," Pursell told a 92 Group meeting, "[Budget Chairman William] Gray just told me that their budget would be 80 to 90 percent of our budget. He asked if we could live with that, and I told him we'd take a look at it."
The Northeast and Midwest accounted for about three-fourths of the members of the 92 Group, while the South and West contributed the bulk of the COS members. Long before the 1992 election, the 92 Group had petered out, a victim of regional shifts, the bombthrowers' growing influence, and the increasingly rancorous politics of the federal budget, which worked against bipartisan compromise.
The bombthrower/responsible partner division encompasses more than the differences between COS and the 92 Group. Some of the voices for the latter viewpoint have come from other quarters. In 1984, conservative Oklahoman Mickey Edwards issued an attack on COS: "But those of us who actually want to achieve a government predicated on these conservative viewpoints, those of us who want results and not just rhetoric, must work with the Democrats, with the Senate and with the White House to achieve as much as we can, as fast as we can, moving incrementally toward success, rather than attempting to burn down the Capitol and point the finger at Democrats, saying, 'They started it.'"
The debate between bombthrowers and responsible partners has hinged on whether House Republicans have any real influence. One ranking member with a reputation for clout said that House Republicans suffer from a "self-fulfilling prophecy" of impotence, although he acknowledged a serious limit on his ability to influence Democratic committee colleagues, and soon after our interview he left the House. Despite their differences over confrontational tactics, some bombthrowers and "responsible partners" share an interest in policy innovation. As COS chairman Boehner put it: "Unless you offer an alternative, you are not meeting your responsibility." In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the House Wednesday Group supplied a forum for communication between both sides. Originally a bastion of northeastern liberals, the Wednesday Group later expanded to include members such as Vin Weber (R-Minnesota), a founder of COS. Shortly after his election as whip, Gingrich observed: "There is almost a new synthesis evolving with the classic moderate wing of the party, where, as a former Rockefeller state chairman, I've spent most of my life, and the conservative/activist wing." One example of this synthesis is the successful effort of "responsible partner" Thomas Petri (R-Wisconsin) to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, a policy that dovetails with the increasingly popular conservative concept of "empowerment."
It would be an overstatement to claim that these efforts at synthesis have erased the Republicansí ideological lines. Policy disagreements continue to plague them.