Comparing the congresses of Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi
Both 1994 and 2018 were mid-term election years of consequence in America. Most recently, the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives scored major victories in the mid-term elections picking up 40 seats. In 1994 the Republicans led by Newt Gingrich took over the U.S. House of Representatives by picking up 54 seats held previously by Democrats.
Large pickups in mid-term elections by the party not holding the White House are generally the rule during the first-term of a new President. Since World War II the party controlling the White House on average loses 26 seats in the U.S. House during a mid-term election.
Sometimes voters feel a type of buyers’ remorse with regard to a new presidential administration. Such was clearly the case with Bill Clinton in 1994 where voters felt that Clinton failed to keep his promise to govern from the political mainstream when he pushed universal health care, a liberal social agenda, and tax-and-spend fiscal policies. In 2018 some voters were likely frustrated by the Republicans when Congress failed to repeal Obamacare. Other voters were motivated to come out to the polls to support Democratic candidates for Congress as a way to show their opposition to President Trump.
In 1994 Newt Gingrich, then led the Republicans in the U.S. House in what is now called the Republican Revolution. In 1994 the Republicans successfully, for the first, and arguably the only time, created a national platform to run off in the mid-term elections. Instead, focusing on issues related to each competitive district they fielded a candidate in, the GOP focused on a national agenda which had been drafted by 11 different working group of currently serving Republican members of Congress.
The 1994 Republican Contract with America, was popular with voters, it included the following: requiring a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase; require Congressional committee meetings to be open to the public; limit the terms of all committee chairs; conduct an independent audit of Congress; require all laws that apply to the rest of the country to also apply to Congress; provide loser pays tort reform; mandate a balanced budget; pass an anti-crime package; provide small business incentives, preventing U.S. troops from serving under UN command; place a work requirement to receive welfare benefits; and require term limits for members of Congress.
Many of these ideas were taken directly from proposals made by Ronald Reagan during his presidency. These ideas made sense to many voters because they were understandable and conformed to the common sense of the public. As a result, for the first time since 1953 the GOP gained control of the U.S. House, and also gained control of many state and local offices nationwide as a result of the landslide.
Gingrich and the Republicans in the U.S. House had promised to take action quickly, which they did. Within the first 100 days of taking control in Congress, nine of 10 key contract promises had been adopted by the House. Overall, the Contract’s items succeeded in 299 of 302 House floor votes. While not all elements of the Contract were signed into law by Bill Clinton, it did achieve discussion and compromise between the White House and Republicans. It is likely the Contract had the effect of moving the Clinton Presidency more towards the political center and away from an even more liberal political trajectory.
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, unlike the Republicans in 1994, did not offer a clear national agenda for change. Rather than offering a competing set of ideas to that of the Trump Administration, they ran on a message of opposition to the President. Except for the much media-covered and unpopular Green New Deal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez there are few ideas or vision coming from the Democratic Party in the House. California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill said there is a “lack of urgency” among House Democrats in trying to accomplish goals legislatively. The lack of a national vision by Pelosi and the House Democrats may explain their overall lack of legislative success.
During the first 100 days of the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives have touted a short list of what they feel are accomplishments, including protecting Obamacare, and passing increased gun background checks. These accomplishments do not match up well with the hype created by the Democrats in 2018.
If Pelosi and the House Democrats are to find success in 2020 and beyond they need to take a page from Newt Gingrich and the 1995 class of Republican members of Congress and develop an agenda which can be understood and accepted by the majority of Americas. Continued investigations of the Trump Administration or wild legislative proposals such as the Green New Deal do nothing to help the country or address the concerns that a majority of Americans have in their
day-to-day lives. Simply put, unless Democrats work to develop sensible and thoughtful public policy they will once again relegate themselves to being the minority party in the U.S. House in 2020.
Dan Cravens lives in Blackfoot, and is the Chairman of the Bingham County Republican Central Committee.