As I consider all the hysteria that’s blowing in the political air nowadays, I can’t help but think back to 1995, when Republicans controlled Congress and were working with President Bill Clinton in the White House.
You may recall September 1994, when Republican candidates from all across the nation stood on the Capitol steps and made a promise to the American people that, if elected and given a majority, they would address 10 issues that Newt Gingrich and his team had framed as the Contract with America.
In the first 92 days of the 104th Congress, we passed through the House of Representatives tax relief for working Americans, major welfare reform, a balanced budget constitutional amendment, a stop to unfunded mandates on cities and states, and other reforms.
With Bob Dole, Don Nickles and the GOP leadership team managing the U.S. Senate and Newt Gingrich and his team in the House, we got 75 percent of the Contract with America signed into law by a Democratic president.
Consider where we are today, approaching 200 days in the 109th Congress, with a Democratic president in the White House and strong Democratic majorities controlling both chambers of Congress.
We have a “cap and tax” energy policy that lies dormant; a health care bill in disarray; proposed tax increases all over the board; and a stimulus bill that is not stimulating — we’ve lost at least 1.5 million jobs since the stimulus passed.
While we’ve seen some positive signs in the economy over the past couple of months, the stimulus bill has had nothing to do with creating that positive movement. In fact, of the $787 billion stimulus package, less than $70 billion has been spent. Most of the stimulus package won’t be spent until after 2010. Therefore, it’s had no impact on the economy. Unemployment is at a 27-year high of 9.5 percent. The bill was sold as a means of creating 3.5 million jobs. Now, it’s being sold — after the fact — as having “created or saved” 150,000 jobs. I’d love to see that quantified.
Granted, it’s still early in the Obama administration. But why did Republicans have such success in 1995, while no such success has visited the Democrats in their first 200 days in 2009?
Simply, Democrats do not have the same consensus on anything, compared to that which Republicans maintained in the first 100 days in 1995.
There is so much concern among the American people regarding all the “stuff” out there — spending, arguing, bailouts, a cash for clunkers program that is poorly run, and borrowing — but no long-term solutions on anything substantive on the policy front.
Great dissension was created in the Democrat ranks after the climate change “cap and trade” bill was set aside in the Senate.
The cap and trade bill, which passed the House by a narrow 219-212 margin, was a tough vote for the moderate-to-conservative Blue Dog Democrats due to concerns about tax increases on farmers, small businesses and working people. There were also concerns the bill will be a job killer. However, House Democrats walked the plank by casting their votes to pass it and expose themselves to the voters in their districts — while the Senate has yet to address this issue.
So, the Blue Dogs have essentially said, “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me.” Thus they now have resisted the health care reform bill being pushed by the Democratic leadership.
There are three or four versions of a health care bill in the House, and one version in the Senate. All different bills. Not good. No consensus.
As a former member of the House Republican leadership, I can guarantee there never would have been four or five different Republican bills coming out of committee. This all makes the Democrats look disorganized and disjointed. Just as the Republicans would have looked if we had run the House this way.
If you’ll recall, when Republicans lost their majority in 2006, the hue and cry of the public and media was that the Republicans were disjointed, disorganized, messageless and leaderless.
There has been much in the public domain over the past four months regarding all I’ve mentioned here. But the bottom line is that while the Democratic leadership has been consistent in its desire to increase taxes and spending and fundamentally dismantle our health care system, they have not built consensus among their rank and file, and they have floundered in their roles as national leaders.
J.C. Watts (JCWatts01@jcwatts.com), chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group, is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002.