Contract With America In the historic 1994 midterm elections, Republicans won a majority in Congress for the first time in forty years, partly on the appeal of a platform called the Contract with America. Put forward by House Republicans, this sweeping ten-point plan promised to reshape government. Its main theme was the decentralization of federal authority, deregulation, tax cuts, reform of social programs, increased power for states, a balanced federal budget were its chief ambitions.
With unusual speed, all ten items came to a vote in the House of Representatives within one hundred days, and the House passed nine of the ten measures. Yet, even Newt Gingrich who is was the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of the key leaders of the so called Republican Revolution of the 1990’s compared the plan to the most important political reforms of the twentieth century, progress on the contract was delayed. Senate Republicans were slow to embrace it, Democrats in both chambers denounced it, and President Bill Clinton threatened to veto its most radical provisions.
Only three of the least controversial measures had become law by the end of 1995 as Congress and the White House battled bitterly over the federal budget. On the surface, the contract differed little from other modern Republican platforms. It began with a statement of three “core” principles in the form of an argument: the federal government is too big and unresponsive, and big government programs sap individual and family willpower and thus an overtaxed and overregulated citizenry cannot pursue the American Dream. Republicans had been saying as much for at least two decades.
Although Democrats had controlled Congress for more than forty years with an almost opposite view of government’s duty to its people, Republicans had held the White House from 1980 to 1992. The election of President Clinton in 1992 was a striking setback for Republican party strategists. Yet, they took encouragement from voter discontent with the pace of Clinton’s legislative plans, two key provisions of which an economic stimulus package and health care reform failed to pass even with a Democratic majority in Congress.
Many of the Contract’s policy ideas originated at The Heritage Foundation, a highly influential conservative think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and a strong national defense. The Heritage Foundation has played an important role in advancing conservative ideas, especially after the election of Republican majorities in the U. S. House of Representatives and Senate in 1994.
The Republican “Contract with America” agenda sought major changes in the size and power of the federal government. Heritage Foundation staff played a key role behind the scenes in helping to craft and refine legislative proposals. The Heritage Foundation is a nonpartisan, tax-exempt institution and is governed by an independent board of trustees. It relies on the private financial support of individuals, foundations, and corporations for its income and accepts no government funds and performs no contract work. Currently, it receives support from more than 200,000 contributors.
Its headquarters are in Washington, D. C. Contract with America made two promises “to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives. ” First, it promised to change the way Congress works by requiring that lawmakers follow the same workplace laws as the rest of the country notably, sexual harassment laws and by strictly reforming the sluggish committee process in the House of Representatives. Second, it promised that the House would vote on the ten key planks of the contract within the first one hundred days of the new Congress.
The contract gave these ten planks names such as the Fiscal Responsibility Act: This Act includes the balanced budget amendment and the line item veto. The Constitutional amendment would have required the federal budget to be balanced by 2002. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate. The House passed the proposal, but it died on the Senate floor, only two votes short of the required two-thirds majority. The line-item veto would give the President the authority to strike big spending items on proposed legislation. This bill passed both House and Senate.
Political analysts report that prospects for presidential passage of the line item veto are strong because the concept has long been supported by Clinton (Seideman, 1995, p. 27). The Taking Back Our Streets Act: is the second plank, which addresses violent crime. The proposed legislation includes a package of reforms, which would limit appeals in death penalty cases, provide new mandatory minimum sentences, and increase funding for prison facilities and additional law enforcement. This bill passed the House floor and awaits action by the Senate, where support is considered strong.
Democratic opposition will be tempered by public sentiment to get tough on crime. The Personal Responsibility Act: This proposal is aimed at discouraging illegitimate births and teen pregnancies. The provisions of the Act would cut Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to recipients after two years. A prerequisite for receiving AFDC payments would be the identification of the child beneficiary’s father. Although this bill passed the House floor, it is assured of an uphill battle in the Senate: “An issue like welfare is like health care–easier to talk about than to legislate.
And reform is going to cost money” (Seideman, 1995, p. 26). THE FAMILY REINFORCEMENT ACT: is the fourth plank of the “Contract with America. ” This package would provide tax credits for child adoption and elderly dependent care, strengthen child pornography laws, and provide a tracking system for “deadbeat dads” who fail to pay child support payments. As of March 25, 1995, this bill is still in House committee (U. S. Congress, 1995, p. 853). Although the prospects for passage in the Senate are good, one of the drawbacks of this legislation is securing the money to pay for the tax credits.
THE AMERICAN DREAM RESTORATION ACT: the fifth point of the “Contract with America. ” This bill would seek the repeal of the marriage tax, provide a $500 per child tax credit, and expand the tax-free usage of interest from individual retirement accounts (IRAs). The House recently passed this bill, and it now moves on to the Senate. Although tax cuts are popular with the public, Senate Republicans are expected to scrutinize them closely in terms of their effect on the federal deficit: “A number of Senate Republicans, including Bob Dole and Pete Domenici, R-N. M. are confirmed deficit hawks and want to channel all savings toward reducing the deficit” (U. S. Congress, 1994, p. 3218). THE NATIONAL SECURITY RESTORATION ACT: The aim of this proposal is a strong national defense by restricting the ability of the United Nations to command United States troops and restoration of defense funding, including funds for projects like the Star Wars system. Despite the vagueness of this bill, it passed the House floor, but the “GOP suffered rare defeat on anti-missile defense vote” (U. S. Congress, 1995, p. 853). The outlook for passage of this Act by the Senate is poor due to “the Republicans’ ore urgent priorities of slashing taxes, balancing the budget and curbing overall spending” (Seideman, 1995, p. 27). THE SENIOR CITIZENS FAIRNESS ACT: is the seventh plank of the Republican contract. This Act would repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and would raise to $30,000 the amount of money that seniors can earn without losing benefits. As of March 25, 1995, this bill had passed House committee (U. S. Congress, 1995, p. 853). Although the bill has received widespread support from the public and legislators, Democrats are expected to oppose it due to its effect on the deficit.
THE JOB CREATION AND WAGE ENHANCEMENT ACT: is the eighth point of the “Contract with America. ” This proposal includes the following: “small business incentives, capital gains cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages” (U. S. Congress, 1994, p. 3219). President Clinton signed the unfunded mandate portion of the bill into law; all other components of the bill have passed House committee and are in various stages of discussion in the Senate.
The most controversial aspect of the bill is the capital gains tax cut which has traditionally benefited the affluent. THE COMMON SENSE LEGAL REFORM ACT: is the ninth point of the Republican contract, and is aimed at reducing frivolous lawsuits and excessive punitive damages in product liability cases. One component of this bill is that the “loser” in a lawsuit pays the court costs of the defendant. All portions of this bill have passed the House floor, but strong opposition is expected from the Senate and President Clinton who see the measure as a “substantial overhaul” of the legal system (U.
S. Congress, 1994, p. 3219). THE CITIZEN LEGISLATURE ACT: this Act would have limited House members to six-year, alternately 12-year terms and Senate members to 12-year terms. However, it proved to be a divisive issue, even among Republicans, and failed to pass the House. Despite the divisiveness of many issues involved in the “Contract with America,” Republicans have struggled to maintain a united front: “Even on issues where they are divided, House Republicans are continuing to vote in lock step to get their programs through” (U.
S. Congress, 1995, p. 577). The actual proposals represented a mixture of old and new ideas. Republicans had long supported deregulation of industry, tort reform, and middle-class tax cuts. As a deficit reduction solution, the line-item veto was an old idea: ever since the 1980s, Republicans had called for a presidential power to veto specific parts of federal spending bills rather than the entire bills. More revolutionary was the contract’s related proposal: a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
In the same sense, the welfare reform proposals reflected a long running debate and yet offered ambitiously strict limits on spending, eligibility, and administration, and even sought to transfer authority over traditionally federal programs to the states. References John B. Bader; Taking the Initiative: Leadership Agendas in Congress and the “Contract with America” Georgetown University Press, 1996 Timothy J. Barnett; Legislative Learning: The 104th Republican Freshmen in the House Garland, 1999 Mona Charen, Burton W. Folsom Jr. , Alonzo L. Hamby, Jeff Jacoby, Deroy Murdock, Sally C.
Pipes, John J. Pitney Jr. , William A. Rusher and Mike Siegel. “100 Days That Shook the World: The Historical Significance of the Contract with America” in Policy Review. Issue: 73. 1995. page 18+. Conservative commentary Linda Killian; The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution? Westview Press, 1998 Douglas L. Koopman; Hostile Takeover: The House Republican Party, 1980-1995 Rowman & Littlefield, 1996 John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. The Right Nation (2004) Nicol C. Rae; Conservative Reformers: The Republican Freshmen and the Lessons of the 104th Congress M.
E. Sharpe, 1998 U. S. Congress. (1995). House GOP shows a united front in crossing contract’ divide. Washington, D. C. : Congressional Quarterly Inc. U. S. Congress. (1995). Status of ‘contract with America’. Washington, D. C. : Congressional Quarterly Inc. U. S. Congress. (1994). Republicans’ initial promise: 100-day debate on ‘contract. ‘ Washington, D. C. : Congressional Quarterly Inc. Gingrich, Newt and Armey, Dick. (1994). Contract with America: The Bold Plan. New York: Times Books. Roberts, Steven. (1994, November 21). Sea of