(Political) ghosts of Christmas Past

The debate over health reform legislation hasn’t fostered much Christmas spirit among the political class.

Most recently, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (jokingly?) urged readers to hang in effigy Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in response to his questioning of controversial legislation.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offered up a prayer on the Senate floor interpreted by many to be a prayer that 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D- W. Va., would die or otherwise be unable to contribute to the 60-vote total Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., needed for the legislation to survive an absolute stonewall by Republicans.

The bitterness and acrimony leaves many wondering: Does Congress need to be so hostile?

The answer? No.

Less than 15 years ago House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., considered divisive for his time, conducted an interview with PBS journalist Jim Lehrer about his efforts to work with President Bill Clinton, a Democrat who along with wife, Hillary, was also criticized for divisiveness, to deliver a budget both parties could agree on.

The interview was conducted Jan. 24, 1996 and in it Gingrich talks about a desire to cut taxes and temporarily increase the federal government’s debt limit as a means to breathe life into the economy, among other things.

The topics were similar to issues that today have Democrats and Republicans publicly at each others’ throats. But check out the rhetoric from Gingrich in this excerpt. Hardly a death wish — or even an effigy wish.

JIM LEHRER: How would you suggest the spin masters do this? A deal is made. Is this something that the President wanted, or is this something you all want, or is it a tie? What is this?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: What if we just said that it’s good for America to begin to reduce the deficit and move to a balanced budget; it’s good for America to have tax credits for children so parents have the money who are working; and it’s good for America to make sure we honor our debt, and we don’t default, and that our credit remains good, and if President Clinton, a Democrat, and Sen. Dole and Congressman Gingrich, Republicans, can actually get in the same room and get it done and get it passed and it happens, that’s good for America, and then not worry too much about who gets the credit. Ronald Reagan used to have a sign that said, "It’s amazing what you can get done in this city if you don’t worry about who takes the credit." And I think that’s a pretty good rule.

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