When the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in the “Gingrich Revolution” of 1994, House Speaker Newt Gingrich put a brash young Congressman from Ohio in charge of delivering on a key agenda item — coming up with a plan to balance the federal budget.
That hard-charging congressman was then-42-year-old John Kasich.
For months, I and my team from the then-MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour followed Kasich as he took on the entrenched spending bulls of Congress — not just Democrats, but also Republicans. Committee leaders from both parties jealously guarded their control of the spending purse, and the power that came with it.
We spent days with Kasich in the offices, halls and hearing rooms of Capitol Hill, on the road with his House Budget Committee and at his home in Columbus, Ohio.
What was fascinating for me in reporting this piece, was to watch Kasich work on transforming himself as well. Known for years as a hard-charging fiscal hawk in the House minority, he had to evolve from a maverick back-bencher into a policy maker. And he had to do it well enough to forge personal relationships and build coalitions across the aisle.
We ended our reporting the day before his budget blueprint, which he had gotten through the Budget Committee with Democratic as well as Republican votes, went to the full House for a vote. It passed. And within two years, with many changes, became law as the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Historians will long quibble over whether that law delivered on what it promised. But the process by which Kasich pulled off the first step reveals a lot about the character and MO of the man who last night surprised the pundits by scoring second in the New Hampshire primary.
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