Passing the Budget Bill
The vote on the budget bill came down to a Freshman Democrat, Marjorie Margolis Mezvinsky. Senator Tom Daschle described Clinton's resolve to get the budget passed: "There wasn’t anything he wasn’t willing to do. He would call, he would meet. He would grovel, he would strong-arm. He would use every tactic any leader has at his disposal to try to get this thing done."
Sen. Tom Daschle, (D) South Dakota: There wasn’t anything he wasn’t willing to do. He would call, he would meet. He would grovel, he would strong-arm. He would use every tactic any leader has at his disposal to try to get this thing done.
Narrator: But the days when a president could command votes, even from members of his own party, were long over.
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: Bill Clinton was used to Arkansas. You know, he knew the good old boys, he knew who he had to go to. He could walk on the floor of the legislature and basically, you know, with a smile and a pat on the back he could get any vote he wanted. That wasn't true, here in Washington. In many ways it was frustrating because he really felt he knew what was best for the country and that by the sheer power of his personality and his words and his smile, that somehow he could make it work.
Narrator: The budget wended its way through a series of committee and floor votes in the House and Senate.
Stanley Greenberg, Political Strategist: We went to some of these votes not having the votes. Getting calls during the voting process that someone had turned, someone had moved, these things are being won by one vote. Imagine that. This is the budget, this is like his entire presidency goes down if he fails, and you’re up to one vote each time.
Narrator: In early August, the final budget bill reached the floor of the House. With the vote still in doubt, all eyes turned to a freshman Democratic from a historically Republican district, Marjorie Margolis Mezvinsky.
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: We had her down as voting yes, and she votes no, early on. And so we said, ‘Go in there, find out what the hell’s going on, try to turn her vote around.' First of all, as a former member, if you’re going to vote against the leadership, vote and get the hell out of there. She didn’t do that, she stayed there. So suddenly these guys are all pouring on her, and she’s standing there, and they’re saying, ‘Come on, you’ve got to change your vote, this is important to the administration.’
She then says something like, ‘I’ll do this, but the president has to come into my district.’ So they call me, back in the office, and they say, 'Will the president come into her district to do-’ And I say, ‘Absolutely! Whatever it takes, we’re gonna do it.’
Narrator: With the vote, and his presidency on the line, Clinton paced nervously in a small office in the West Wing.
Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary: We’re all crowded around this little television set, really with quite a high level of uncertainty.
Narrator: Finally, Mezvinsky cast her vote ‘yes’ and the budget passed.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?