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img035 - 72 Palitz'a by Olber Meam Gingrich Republicanism...

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Unformatted text preview: 72 Palitz'a by Olber Meam Gingrich Republicanism: Goals and Methods Finally, Gingrich-era Republicanism involved a more ambi— tious set of goals and more radical methods than did Reaganite Re- publicanism. The goals pursued by the Reagan revolution were actually modest. Initially the Reagan administration employed what might be called a fiscal strategy to halt the expansion of ex— isting federal social programs and to prevent the enactment of any new social programs. Substantial tax cuts, embodied in the 1981 Tax Reform Act, reduced the revenues flowing to the U.S. Treasury, and this limited the resources available for federal expenditure pro- grams. At the same time the increase in military outlays meant that the hands available for both existing domestic programs and for any new social policies would be severely constrained. However, after a bitter struggle with its Democratic foes, the Reagan administration in 1982 reached an accommodation with its opponents. The White House and Congress allowed the US. deficit to increase sufficiently to enable the federal government to finance its new military priorities as well as established domestic programs. Indeed, the rate at which expenditures on social pro— grams inrreared during the Reagan years scarcely differed from the growth rate of social spending during the preceding administra- tions. This accommodation, which President Reagan’s first budget director, David Stockman, in 1986 termed “the triumph of poli— tics,” was largely responsible for the enormous U.S. debt that ac- cumuEated during the Reagan presidency. After the 1982 accommodation Reaganisrn became little more than an effort to prevent the creation of new social programs fi- nanced by the US. Treasury. In this limited sense the Reaganites were successful. Not a single new domestic social spending pro— gram was enacted during President Reagan’s eight years in office. By the late 19805, however, congressional Democrats had de- vised a means of at least partially circumventing the fiscal con- straints on the creation of new social programs. Programs such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, family leave, and the Clinton Electoral Deadlock 7 3 administration’s proposal to reform the nation’s health care system called for benefits that would be paid for by employers and other private institutions rather than by the U.S. Treasury. In this way, new social programs could be established despite the federal gov- ernment’s lack of new funds. These programs, moreover, could be expanded through litigation. Litigation, much of it initiated by liberal public interest groups affiliated with the Democratic coali— tion, enabled liberals and Democrats to extend the benefits avail— able to their constituencies without needing to secure congressional approval of new tax and spending programs. Under a number of statutory citizen enforcement provisions, moreover, many public interest groups—including Defenders of Wildlife, Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group, the Disability Rights Litigation and Defense Fund, and a score of others—"were able to secure a substantial portion of their own funding from the fees and damages awarded to successful public interest litigants. After the 1994 elections Republicans sought to undo this com- promise by slashing funding for existing social programs as well as enacting a number of other programs, under the rubric of the “Con— tract with America," that threatened to strike directly at the in- stitutions and programs through which liberal Democrats exercise power. We shall examine some of the details of this effort in sub— sequent chapters. What is important in the present context is that the militance of the new Republican coalition led directly to the GOP’s crushing defeat in the climactic 1995—1996 battle over the federal budget. Congressional Republicans were determined to bring about substantial cuts in the growth of government spend- ing. This plan posed a mortal threat to Democratic domestic agen— cies and programs and engendered fierce Democratic resistance. As Republicans had anticipated, President Clinton refused to ac— cept GOP budget proposals, allowing the federal government's spending authority to lapse in the closing weeks of 1995. During a similar face—off between President Bush and a Democratic Con— gress in 1990, Bush had eventually compromised with the De- mocrats on a new tax and spending package in order to avert a ...
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