December 12, 2015
FOR the first time this year congressional Republicans feel as if they have their political footing. They have passed a major welfare-reform bill, “common-sense” health-care legislation, and a widely popular minimum-wage measure. President Clinton’s charge of GOP “extremism” has been implicitly revoked by all his signatures, while the appellation “do-nothing Congress” plainly no longer applies. Republican members left Washington, D.C., for the recess light of heart, convinced they had finally hit upon the formula that will see them through November. But if the last two weeks re-elect them, they will have learned the wrong lessons from their two years in power
Will Republicans be ready for him? They still suffer from their balanced-budget debacle this year. They concluded then that they couldn’t win any argument with President Clinton. In fact, they just couldn’t win a fight over Medicare. But they avoided passing popular bills on issues like affirmative action and taxes for fear of provoking attacks on them as extremists, friends of the rich, etc. They floundered for months, before settling on their latest strategy, which is to seek the President’s seal of approval. Instead of confronting him on wedge issues, they have accommodated him on consensus ones. Instead of defining him as a liberal, they join him in the center. It may work in November, but only at the risk of sabotaging presidential candidate Bob Dole.
Which presents two larger, strategic problems. The first is that if Dole loses big, he may take down enough bi-partisan, consensus-building Republican congressmen to scuttle the Republican majority anyway. The other is that Dole is now the symbolic repository of tax cuts, the foremost GOP issue. If Dole loses, tax cuts go down with him, while President Clinton will no doubt claim a mandate for his one-step-back, two-steps-forward liberalism. And what is to keep a rudderless, barely re-elected GOP Congress from cooperating with him on that too?