In the wake of Tom DeLay’s indictment on one count of criminal conspiracy, Democrats are crowing. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sees a “culture of corruption” in the GOP while even some conservatives fear that the current Republican Congress resembles the Democratic Congress of 1993-94, the last one where Ms. Pelosi’s party had a majority in the House.
Some Democrats (and even a few Republicans) believe that they can use the corruption charge against the GOP and so regain the majority they had enjoyed for all but four of the sixty-two years prior to 1994. That year, Republicans ran against the Democrats’ liberal and spendthrift policies, their corruption and abuse of power and put forward a positive reform agenda, The Contract with America. They won a majority in the House (and the Senate) and have had uninterrupted control (of the House) ever since.
While I’m no fan of Tom DeLay, I believe the charges that Travis County (TX) District Attorney Ronnie Earle leveled against him are baseless, a political vendetta by a prosecutor who routinely indicts his political adversaries. Earle’s political indictments rarely result in conviction. But, the focus on DeLay should remind us how far House Republicans, under his leadership, have strayed from the conservative reform agenda which brought them to power just over a decade ago. Ankle Biting Pundits observes:
Clearly the Congressional GOP has lost much of its bearings, and is turning into the 1992-1993 version of the Congressional Democrats. And the question arises, what’s the point of having a majority if that majority doesn’t stand for anything useful? If the result is more of the same spending binges, nonchalance on the issue of illegal immigration, an expansion of the welfare state (i.e. Medicare Modernization Act), and the lack of backbone when it comes to cutting taxes permanently and reforming Social Security, then what have we really won?
(HT: Instapundit & Polipundit‘s Lorie Byrd.) Unlike that last Democratic Congress, however, there is already grumbling within the majority ranks. Under the leadership of Indiana Republican Mike Pence, the House Republican Study Committee [RSC] has “proposed “budget options” that would cut spending by as much as $102 billion in one year.”
The RSC’s “Operation Offset” calls for Congress to offset costs of the recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with cuts in other federal programs. With his zeal to hold the line on federal spending, Pence resembles Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and 90s, when the future Speaker challenged the leadership of then-minority House Republicans to press for reform. That is, just like the 103rd Congress, the last with a Democratic Majority, the impetus for change in the 109th remains in the GOP, even though our party now holds a majority.
The next few months will be crucial for the GOP. If congressional Republicans can continue their record of accomplishment while holding the line on spending and cutting and/or eliminating wasteful federal programs, they will prove their worth and so give conservative voters a reason to come out and vote to keep them in power. But, if they don’t, it could be 1994 all over again, particularly if Democrats next fall do as the GOP did eleven years ago and offer a positive agenda in their campaigns.
Or, it could be the Democrats’ 1998. That year, Republicans thought they had won the lottery when Americans learned that President Clinton had lied under oath in his testimony in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against him. Instead of promoting reform as they had in 1994, congressional Republicans ran against Clinton, his dishonesty and corruption. Not having anything to vote for, many Republicans stayed home that fall. Democrats made unexpected (and nearly unprecedented) gains in the House.
In 1998, the GOP learned that just running against corruption is not enough. So far, the Democrats don’t seem to have learned that lesson. Gloating over DeLay’s indictment and already running against GOP corruption, today’s Democrats resemble the Republicans of 1998. That could change.
The next few months could give us a clue as to whether 2006 will resemble 1998 or 1994. If House Republican Leaders work with Pence and the RSC and take seriously their suggestions for budget cuts, Republicans could pick up a few seats and make it possible to keep their hold on Congress for years to come. If, however, Republicans continue with Tom DeLay’s pork-barrel politics, we could see a repeat of 1994, only with the Democrats throwing out a spendthrift majority. But, in 1994, the Republicans had a positive message for change. And today’s Democrats’ only agenda seems to be to attack President Bush and any policy he proposes.
Let’s hope House Republicans follow the lead of Mike Pence and rediscover the spirit which animated The Contract with America so our party can once again become the party of reform. And as we cut the size of government, we help fulfill the legacy of the greatest American president of the second half of the twentieth century, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE–The Wall Street Journal reaches a conclusion similar to my own:
The real danger for Republicans now isn’t ethics; it is that, like those 1994 Democrats, they seem to have grown more comfortable presiding over the government than changing it.
The path back to public approval, and re-election next year, is to return to their principles. Respond to the economic damage of Katrina by making energy exploration and production less burdensome. Help sustain the current expansion by making the Bush tax cuts permanent, repealing the death tax as they’ve promised for years and taking a stab at larger tax reform. If Social Security is too daunting, then turn to health care, by passing free-market reforms that lower the cost of insurance so employers can give larger wage increases instead of paying ever more for health care. And restore Medicaid to the program for the poor that it was designed to be instead of a middle-class subsidy for long-term care.