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The Republican Revolution is dead

By Alan Caruba
web posted May 16, 2005

Back in 1994 when the famed Republican "Contract with America" captured control of Congress for the party, Newt Gingrich, one of its authors, noted that, "Washington is like a sponge. It absorbs waves of change, and it slows them down, and it softens them, and then one morning they cease to exist."

The Republican Party regained power in the House of Representatives after forty years of Democrat domination. They had a margin of 54 House seats. It had been the largest party swing since 1948. In the Senate, they gained control with the addition of eight seats, and added a ninth when Richard Shelby of Alabama switched parties. Like many Republicans, I can recall thinking that we could now look forward to changes in domestic and foreign policies that conservatives had yearned for throughout the Reagan years.

Even Bill Clinton thought so as well. In his 1996, State of the Union address, he said, "The era of big government is over." Perhaps he was thinking about the Contract with America because the newly elected Republican majority, in the first hundred days in office, passed legislation that did make changes.

Clinton signing the welfare reform legislation on August 22, 1996
Clinton signing the welfare reform legislation on August 22, 1996

They introduced real welfare reform and the first major tax cut in sixteen years. The Contract produced the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s and the first independent financial audit of the House. The Contract resulted in House committee meetings to be open to the public, required a three-fifths majority vote to pass tax increases, and a time limit on the terms of all committee chairs. The Contract's broad promise was to "end…government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money." But that was a decade ago.

In a collection of commentaries, The Republican Revolution 10 Years Later: Smaller Government or Business as Usual? ($13.95, Cato Institute), Chris Edwards and John Samples have gathered together experts on all aspects of government to answer the question posed by the title. The answers are universally negative, including Gingrich who noted that, "All our work (on the Contract) was done against the active, continuing opposition of the traditional party."

After forty years as the minority party, those who led the GOP had become more like Democrats than Republicans, despite the effort led by Sen. Barry Goldwater. Today, the GOP has become the big-spenders they decried when the Democrats were in control. People are beginning to notice. They are noticing, too, the obeisance paid to the party's fundamentalist religious element that appears to be in the driver's seat on many social issues.

Commenting on the way the current Congress seems immune to any kind of fiscal prudence, Richard Armey, a co-author of the Contract, cited one of "Armey's axioms" that says, "When we act like them, we lose." Retired from the House, Armey noted that, "Those of us who want less government, lower taxes, and more freedom must remember what happens as government expands. Free individuals in the competitive marketplace make fewer decisions." Big Government exists to make all the decisions.

For example, despite the tax cuts enacted in President Bush's first term and despite the rhetoric, corporate taxes have not been cut. The corporate tax bill enacted in 2004 did not contain major reforms. The public perception is that the GOP virtually exists to let corporations exploit the tax code, but the truth, as Chris Edwards, points out is that, "U.S. policymakers have been asleep at the switch while nearly every other industrial country has cut its corporate tax rate in recent years." That alone puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

The deficit, last seen headed for the Moon, portends bad news for the rest of us. "Future Congresses and presidents may use the deficit as an excuse to raise taxes, as President Clinton did in 1993," notes Edwards. Who has given us this deficit? "Federal outlays rose 29 percent under President Bush between FY01 and FY05."

When he was re-elected, the President concluded he had to spend his political capital. "When you win there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view," he said. Wrong. Bush is President because a relatively slim margin kept him in office as voters expressed a preference for a wartime President who vowed to fight our enemies rather than a spineless Democrat who did not comprehend we cannot negotiate with Muslim fanatics.

The President's popularity ratings continue their decline. Political observers have begun to conclude that he and the GOP have misread the November elections. There is more than just a touch of hubris being seen in the President's behavior.

The Republican product these days is a government that won't stop spending on failed programs including the Department of Education that its icon, Ronald Reagan, proposed to shut down. Countless failed programs go merrily along wasting billions of taxpayer dollars. Though the Contract promised to "strengthen the rights of parents in their children's education", the opposite occurred. Total federal support for education reached about $100 billion by 1997, up 160 percent from $37.7 billion in 1990.

Yes, the original Contract and its results were impressive, but only for a short while. The few rule changes in the way Congress conducts public business did occur after the Contract with America, but a Republican Party that can't or won't change a Senate rule to get an up or down vote on judges is a far cry from its heady first days in 1994.

Today the federal government continues to increase regulations, adding $800 billion to the cost of everything Americans do. Its spending programs continue to increase. Its so-called "entitlement" programs are bankrupt. And expanding! There are more and more federal crimes added to the books. There is less and less power at the State level where the framers of the Constitution wanted it.

The federal government today has the look of an asteroid headed for America at high speed.

The elections in 2006 may just resemble those of 1994 if enough voters decide it is time to wrest control of Congress from the GOP and enough Republicans decide to stay home.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center, © Alan Caruba, May 2005

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • The Republican Revolution has expired by Charles Bloomer (November 12, 2001)
    The Republican Revolution, ongoing since 1994, is as of November 6 dead. Charles Bloomer tells us why
  • Not-So-Radical Republicans by Stephen Moore (November 1998)
    Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute tells us why the Republican budget revolution failed...just in time for election day!

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