Gop Tells Democrats To Fly A Kite

ON THE POLITICAL SCENE

August 06, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writer Karen Hosler contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- This summer, as President Clinton's popularity has fallen and the political parties gear up for the 1994 midterm elections, Republican leaders have been plotting a revolution.

So high is the confidence of Republican leaders in the House that they have conducted secret meetings devoted to hitting the ground running on Nov. 10. That is the day, according to their plan, when America will wake up to find that for the first time in four decades, the Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives.

If lightning strikes twice -- and some Republicans expect it will -- the Senate will return to Republican control that day, too.

Their vision doesn't end there. With a hostile Congress passing legislation that a Democratic president would have to veto, the last two years of Mr. Clinton's presidency would be a stalemate, if not a low-level war, and in 1996, the Republicans would recapture the White House.

Hearts are beating fast

The Republicans have had this kind of chance to control the government in only two out of the past 65 years, so it's easy to see why this opportunity makes Republican hearts beat faster. But the question being raised is whether the GOP in its zeal is putting its own interests ahead of the nation's.

"Of course the role of the minority party is to try and become the majority -- I understand that," said Rep. Vic Fazio, a California Democrat. "But it's gotten to the point that this is all [Republican members] are thinking about."

The calculation that the No. 2 House Republican leader, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, has made is this: Criticize Bill Clinton personally, oppose his policies and encourage local Republican House candidates to portray their Democratic foes as Clinton surrogates.

This is traditional hardball politics. But to thwart Mr. Clinton, the Republicans believe, they must thwart health care reform -- possibly anti-crime legislation as well. This leaves them opposing actions that the public may want and that many congressional Republicans have long favored.

In other words, it makes them appear to some as if they are willing to put politics ahead of the people's business.

"We have reached out to them, as was our responsibility, to try to work together in a bipartisan fashion, and every time we have done it, they have moved away," Mr. Clinton said this week in reference to health care legislation.

"My own view is that the questions now should shift to the members of the other party, to the congressional Republicans," the president added. "At one time, when we started this debate and I said I wanted universal coverage, many members in Congress stood up and clapped -- of both parties. At one time, there were two dozen Republican senators on a bill to give universal coverage to all Americans. They have all abandoned that bill."

Purely partisan

The president and House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., have suggested that the Republicans' motivation is purely partisan.

They aren't the only ones. Earlier this summer, Sen. David Durenberger, a Republican from Minnesota, was candid about his party's strategy of denying anything Mr. Clinton could claim as a victory.

Rep. Fred Grandy, an Iowa Republican who is leaving the House after this term, said Mr. Gingrich had issued "marching orders" to Republicans to flatly reject Mr. Clinton's health care bill, and not even to try to improve it with amendments.

"It's disappointing," Mr. Grandy said. "We now have a leadership that pre-empts policy with politics."

Both Mr. Gingrich and Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee, dispute this characterization and point out that Republicans have submitted alternative health care proposals.

Mr. Barbour suggested that the differences between the two parties are so fundamental, however, that compromise may not be possible.

That assertion rings flat at the White House. In the room where the administration's health care strategy is mapped out, there hangs a list of quotations from key Senate Republicans that chronicle their steady retreat from the concept of guaranteeing universal health coverage.

As late as May 12, for instance, Sen. John H. Chafee of Rhode Island said, "I believe that we're going to be able to come out of that committee with a very good bipartisan bill that is going to have universal coverage."

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas made several statements in 1993 affirming his party's support for universal coverage, too.

Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon introduced a bill on Feb. 7 that had a spending scheme very similar to the Clinton administration's approach.

None of the three supports the concept today. "I changed my mind," Mr. Packwood explained.

Mr. Clinton may share some of the blame for poisoning the relations between his administration and the congressional Republicans.

Last year, when Republicans objected to aspects of Mr. Clinton's budget and economic plan, the president insisted that Republicans were just sniping and hadn't submitted any proposals of their own.

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