Three months ago last Tuesday, Republicans took control of the House for the first time in some 40 years. The November rout was aided in part by the bold, specific Contract with America, whose 100 days end this Friday. Despite a fusillade of press attacks, baseless ethics charges against Newt Gingrich, a somewhat halfhearted Senate, and much whining from Nader, Streisand, and company, so far the GOP has done fairly well.
First, the Contract has been nearly fulfilled already. On opening day, the House passed reforms including a supermajority for income tax hikes, a ban on proxy ("ghost") voting, opening most committee meetings to the public, and a 33 percent cut in Congressional staff. Another measure was to require that the laws passed by Congress will actually apply to Congress, a reform as welcome as its need was astonishing.
Since then, the House has passed a bill boosting defense spending while cutting back social programs like HUD, education, health services, and the Commerce Department (for a total savings of $17 billion); major pro-family tax cuts; part of a new crime bill based on block grants to the states; the balanced-budget amendment and a form of line-item veto; caps on damage awards in lawsuits ("a victory for the forces of cruelty" according to Ralph Nader, whose rug I'd love to trip over sometime); a ban on unfunded federal mandates, and the Balanced Budget Amendment.
Quite a bit for a mere 100 days. Welfare reform (stressing individual responsibility), term limits (defeated), tax reform such as the Armey flat-tax plan, and cuts in corporate subsidies have also come under House consideration. (According to John McCain's office, the welfare reform bill passed the House, though I was not able to confirm this due to an impending deadline and the slime who stole the late-March Wall Street Journals from the Main Library.) All in all, the House has been moving along well.
The Senate, more cautious, more temperate, and hence a good deal more asinine, has emerged as a hindrance. It severely weakened a proposed House one-year freeze on new regulations, instead merely giving Congress power to block them if it chose. The Senate Appropriations Committee reduced the above mentioned budget cuts to $13 billion. Of course, the most famous Senate reform derailment was the cliffhanger defeat of the Balanced Budget Amendment, spurring at least one conservative (me) to propose sending Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., to Singapore with a suitcase full of crack.
In fairness, the Senate detailed $750 billion in cuts over the next five years, and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., will almost certainly squash the hard-left UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the GOP majority is too slim to override a veto or break a filibuster, and the BBA defeat was Hatfield's individual doing. Nonetheless, the Senate has not acted as boldly as the House.
But has the House GOP majority been bold enough? Less important than the Contract, and even than the broader legislative issues to follow (such as health care), are the foundational principles on which GOP legislation should be based. These principles include smaller government (MUCH smaller, not just minus PBS and the NEA), drastically lower and simpler tax rates, a strong national defense, restoring civic order and traditional moral standards, and the presumption that individuals, not government, are responsible for their welfare.
The GOP leadership must articulate these principles and defend them with vigor against liberal attacks. They must attack not only the programs of the New Deal and Great Society, but the socialist tenets that founded them. Rather than assuring reporters that block grants will preserve the school-lunch program, Republicans must deny that the federal government has any business providing lunches for anyone. The vast moral breakdown resulting from the dependency welfare fosters is far crueler than cutting AFDC, and the GOP should say so, forcefully and often.
Though much good will come of bulldozing existing laws and agencies, the GOP should also act decisively to restore the traditional morality that built America. Since the Left must normally impose its values from above (notably through the courts), eliminating unnecessary government power will go a long way. But proactive steps like school choice, major restrictions on abortion, and policies exclusively favoring the husband-and-wife family as the basic social unit, are necessary as well.
Of course, such radical reform will not happen overnight, especially since we've had sixty years to get into the mess we're in. The GOP has done a good job so far, particularly in redefining the terms of debates. (Suddenly everyone seems to be talking about cutting taxes, for instance, although the Wall Street Journal still refers to "costly tax cuts" and how to "pay" for them, as if it cost you $100.00 not to steal it from someone.)
But redefining the terms is only the first step towards reversing the decay wrought by socialism, moral relativism, and the loss of individual responsibility. The rest demands unwavering commitment to major change, which will be the real test of Republican governance in the months to come.
John Keisling can out-sing Barbra Streisand. He is a grad student in mathematics.
Read Next Article