Election-year breakthrough 'Do-something Congress': Republican lawmakers and a Democratic president do a deal.

August 05, 1996

IT IS A STRETCH to joke that Bill Clinton is a pretty good Republican president and Newt Gingrich a pretty good Democratic speaker, but the point needs to be made. Strictly in pursuit of their own political goals, and with plenty of help from timorous colleagues, the Clinton-Gingrich combine has made its deal with those devils, the voters. They will do what they have to do to get re-elected.

As a result, that old cliche about "election-year gridlock" can be buried for the duration. Instead, we have an "election-year breakthrough" on such high-ticket items as welfare overhaul, health insurance reform, minimum wage increases, tax breaks for small business, bigger bucks for the Pentagon. If an anti-terrorism package was left out of the avalanche, it was because conservative Republicans found common cause with liberal Democrats in protecting privacy rights.

Odd man out is GOP presidential contender Robert Dole. Republican incumbents, already tagging him as a loser, are trying to retain control of Congress even if they have to swallow a Clinton White House for four more years. To this end, they want to go out on the hustings bragging they are part of a "do-something Congress" even if it means buying into the higher minimum wage the Democrats have exploited so adroitly.

When Mr. Dole left the Senate, this newspaper correctly predicted it would not help his campaign but incorrectly lamented his absence from legislative give-and-take. As it happened, the new Senate majority leader, an old Dole foe named Trent Lott, seized the opportunity to prove he and his buddies among right-wing House Republicans could actually accomplish something. And with help from the pol in the Oval Office, they did.

There were some conventional taunts, to be sure, as lawmakers scrambled to recess for the national conventions. Sen. Edward Kennedy, co-author with GOP Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of the health bill, said Republicans went along "because their own record is too empty and too shameful to run on." GOP platform chairman Henry Hyde retorted that "legislation flowed. . .because [Democrats] understood failure would be laid at their doorstep."

The big winners in this exercise are the president all by himself and those Gingrich Republicans who find Washington life increasingly enticing. The losers? Old Democrats on the Hill and poor old Bob Dole abandoned somewhere out there beyond the beltway.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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