In 1996, congressional Republicans helped ensure President Clinton’s reelection by compromising with him on welfare reform. Although that Democrat had intended to veto the initial GOP proposal, he sat down with congressional leaders and got them to modify their plan and come up with a package that Republicans could support and that this Democratic president could sign. The final plan did not mollify some of President Clinton’s critics in his party, but it did allow him to fulfill in 1992 campaign pledge to “end welfare as we know it.”
As a result, Clinton could point to a success while burnishing his moderate credentials in his reelection campaign that fall. And Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP nominee, had a hard time coming up with a domestic-issue agenda to rally support for his candidacy.
While helping Clinton fulfill this campaign promise hurt the GOP’s presidential prospects in that election year, many Republicans worked hard to pass the legislation as it was the right thing for the country. That bill helped bring down the deficit in the 1990s and helped keep our economy strong.
Three years before Congress passed this sweeping welfare reform, a majority of House Republicans (then the minority party) joined a minority of House Democrats in helping Clinton fulfill another campaign promise, passing NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).
While I’m no fan of Bill Clinton, I give him a lot of credit on these two issues, particularly NAFTA. Had George H.W. Bush won reelection in 1992, he would have faced a Democratic Congress and would not have been able to persuade enough Democratic members to buck the unions (opposed to NAFTA) and vote for the initiative. Clinton used his charm and political skills to rally his fellow Democrats to vote for an agreement about which many were skeptical. That free trade agreement helped strengthen the economic recovery which began in the last quarter of 1992.
Thanks to President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, these two bills, welfare reform and NAFTA, passed Congress and, with his signature, became law. While some Republicans won’t give him credit for these successes, few, at the time of their enactment, used the occasion of this accomplishment to lambaste him on other issues. That saw these bills as examples of bipartisan cooperation in the national interest.
In a subsequent post, I will relate this to President Bush and the War on Terror.