In 1995 Republicans claimed control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Many conservatives were urging the GOP to push its own agenda and not to compromise with Democrats. That same attitude has returned as GOP control of the 112th Congress becomes a more realistic prospect. A recent National Journal poll indicates 70% of Republicans are against legislative compromises, and I can understand their frustration. George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge in exchange for a promise to reduce government spending. Democrats immediately broke their promise.
The current GOP House and Senate leaders have already said they will compromise next year, and few observers are worried about them selling out conservatives. For example, they are willing to accept a two year extension of all the Bush tax cuts rather than a permanent extension. The GOP will compromise on the means testing of entitlement benefits, and other Social Security reforms. The age of eligibility will be increased and the formula used to calculate the annual cost of living adjustment will be changed. The question of private accounts will not be known until December.
This will be a big issue in the the next Congress. Obama already has the 14 votes he needs on his reform commission, and the Republicans are going to support the final recommendations and the same things they advocated when Bush was president. Obama’s commission will be Bush’s vindication from 2006. Democrats will ignore Harry Reid and admit they can no long look the other way.
The GOP will also not insist on all of their suggested budget reductions. Newt Gingrich did not want to compromise when Republicans took over Congress in 1995. The government was shut down, Clinton’s popularity increased and he was easily re-elected. When the GOP compromised they were able to enact welfare reform, the balanced budget amendment and the capital gains tax cut. Nevertheless, a number of respected conservatives are sending a no compromise message to the GOP leadership:
Stephanie Janiczek of Wisconsin:
If they compromise the GOP is dead. Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) is right. They are getting one shot to get it right. I’lll leave the party and have a band of millions following. Do what we want or get handed your pink slip and go the way of the WIGS!
Jamie Linen of Washington, D.C.:
The GOP had the wrong response to Bill Clinton regarding the 1996 government shutdown. It was the end of principle in the party and the beginning of compromise of principle. This continued increasingly until 2008. This reminds me of former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MI) as Majority Leader. He was always looking for how to cut a deal before the first shot had even been fired. This is exactly the kind of thinking the Democrats will encourage.
Stephanie Johnson of Little Rock, Arkansas:
If the GOP compromises, they will once again find themselves out of power. We will NOT put up with their crap again!
What Happened During The Clinton Administration?
A no compromise strategy was successful in defeating 1993’s HillaryCare, but health care problems and rising premiums remained. It was not possible in the current Congress to compromise on proposals such as union card check or cap and trade, but many Republicans believe it is wrong to say they will never compromise. That means problems get worse as they are ignored.
Even if Republicans capture the House and Senate they will not have a veto proof majority and Obama will still be president. People are up in arms about the debt, but there would have been no balanced budget agreement in 1997 without a legislative compromise. It is often necessary to compromise because there are no final victories in politics. There is always another election.
ObamaCare impacts 20% of the American economy and there was no compromise on that Democratic proposal. With increased ranks on Capitol Hill the GOP will finally be able to talk about tort reform, portability and malpractice rules. Lawmakers can not walk away from problems such as health care, and there are many problems with the current system. The Democrats negotiated with Senators Olympia Snowe (ME) and Chuck Grassley (IA), but not with other Republicans.
In 2001, there was a GOP President, House and Senate. The tax reforms they implemented were in effect for only 10 years because of the budget rules. They were able to totally eliminate the estate tax but this lasted only one year (2010). Republicans could have had a permanent fix in the estate tax if they were willing to compromise with Bill Clinton, and in hindsight his requests were reasonable.
What About Welfare Reform?
Some prominent conservatives maintain welfare reform was achieved in the 1990’s because Republicans refused to compromise with the Clinton administration. They claim the GOP sent the exact same bill to the White House three times, and it was finally signed because both the 1996 election was around the corner and the idea was popular. The reality is there were numerous compromises made during the long legislative history of welfare reform. Republicans compromised many times with the Clinton administration, and many of them now regret not compromising on social security. It would have happened without Monica Lewinsky. The story of welfare reform is explained by David Ellwood in the American Spectator article “Welfare Reform as I Knew It: When Bad Things Happen to Good Policies.” Some excerpts are:
“THE REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER
After the 1994 election, welfare reform went on a remarkable political journey. It’s not just that Republican proposals replaced Democratic bills on the congressional agenda. Few people realize how radically the Republican welfare plans have changed.
“The bill that emerged bore only a passing resemblance to the original Contract with America. Far from being a coherent expression of a more conservative philosophy, the legislation was an uneasy compromise between competing positions advanced by various factions in the Republican Party. . .
“Work-oriented reformers created the 1993 House Republican bill—and all of the Republicans signed on. In the Contract with America, the ideological policy critics withdrew money for jobs and child care and added strict work rules, cold-turkey time limits, and harsh sanctions for unmarried parents and their children. Again, virtually all House Republicans initially signed on.
“Then Republican governors rebelled at such “conservative micro management,” complaining that they were left with a nightmare: less money and less flexibility to make their own policies. . . The Senate softened things up somewhat.
“It added money for child care, required states to maintain most of their current spending, eliminated some of the worst restrictions such as those on benefits for legal immigrants, and adopted more practical work requirements. But in adopting the block grant approach, the Senate also eliminated the national entitlement for cash assistance, severely reduced federal spending, and failed to make the work requirements feasible.”