Will GOP Leaders Become Bob Michelized?

The 1994 election provides a beacon of hope for Republicans in Congress.  Voters in the historical mid-term election gave control of the United States House of Representatives to the Republicans for the first time in 40 years.  The last time the Republicans gained control of the House was when Dwight David Eisenhower won his overwhelming victory over Adlai Stevenson in 1952.

Senate Republicans also regained control of the Senate from 1953 to 1955, just as the Republicans in the House did.  While House Republicans were in the political wilderness for the next 40 years, President Ronald Reagan’s two landslides in 1980 and 1984 gave Republicans control of the Senate for six years.

The reason the U.S. Congress was controlled by the Democrats for most of the 40 years prior to the 1994 election can best be personified by the long-time minority  --  emphasis on minority  --  leader, Congressman Bob Michel, a very kind and genial man, but a highly ineffective leader.  Congressman Michel was perfectly content to accept crumbs from the Democrat spending feast.  If the Democrats promised a cut of $1 dollar in federal spending for every $1 tax increase  --  a highly unlikely proposal since they normally wanted more tax increases --  you can bet the spending cuts would not materialize following the tax increases because of decades of weak Republican leadership.

The reason that the Republicans took over control of the House of Representatives only six years after President Ronald Reagan’s highly successful eight years in office can be personified by one man  -- Newt Gingrich.

Congressman Gingrich, the brash young former college professor from Georgia came to Congress in January 1979.  Instead of obeying the Republican dictum for new Republican members, “Be seen, but not heard,” Gingrich promptly ignored such advice.  This articulate ally of the House conservative leader, Jack Kemp, immediately became popular with the conservative movement.   Indeed, Gingrich rose rapidly in the Republican power structure.  He was elected by the Republican caucus as their House minority whip in 1989.

However, the apparent indifference by the Republican minority leader to gain majority control of the House of Representatives grated on Gingrich.  Within a few years, he made it clear to all Republicans that he would challenge GOP Minority Leader Bob Michel (who had been in Congress since 1957) for the top leadership position after the 1994 election.  The minority leader announced shortly after that he would retire after the 103rd Congress.

During the two years leading up to the historic 1994 election, Minority Whip Gingrich led an effort to organize an equally historic compact with the American voter called the “Contract with America.”  The text of the contract  --  which was introduced 6 weeks before the 1994 election and signed by the overwhelming majority of Republican representatives and challengers to Democrat representatives in a ceremony in front of the west side of the Capitol Building  --  included a list of eight reforms and ten pieces of legislation the Republicans would vote on if the voters gave them majority control of the House.

Amongst the eight reforms was the requirement making all laws that applied to the rest of America also apply to Congress and requiring a 60% majority vote to pass a tax increase.  All eight reforms had at least a 60% approval rating amongst the American people.  The American people loved what the Republicans promised they would do if given majority control of the House of Representatives.  Indeed, following the Republican landslide in November 1994, Newt Gingrich did not have to run for minority leader.  Instead, the Republican election tsunami  --  including Republican control of the U.S. Senate  --  resulted in Gingrich being elected Speaker of the House.

Amongst the most successful pieces of legislation passed by the new Republican-controlled Congress was the welfare reform bill called “The Personal Responsibility Act,”   After vetoing two major welfare reform bills passed by the Republican-controlled Congress, the weakened scandalized president, Bill Clinton, signed “The Personal Responsibility Act” into law in 1996 before his reelection campaign kicked into gear.

A measure of the success of just this one Republican bill coming out of the revolutionary 104th Congress was the fact   --  as pointed out in a Heritage Foundation paper, published by Robert Rector and Christine Kim on August 1, 2006  --  that “as families left welfare and single mothers transitioned into work, the child poverty rate fell, from 20.8 percent in 1995 to 17.8 percent in 2004, lifting 1.6 million children out of poverty.  The Obama administration has gutted most of the welfare reforms passed by the Republicans and signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996.

None of these major Republican victories would have been possible if the kindly Republican Minority Leader Bob Michel had remained leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives as he had been for the previous 14 years.

The above examples of Republican timidity and extraordinary courage should be a template for the current Republican congressional leadership following last Tuesday’s close congressional election.  The Democrat-controlled Senate gained two seats and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives still have maintained a very comfortable majority.

Of course, the Republican congressional leadership need to compromise on bills as the liberal establishment of the Republican Party and their allies in the news media are now urging them to do.  However, any compromising by the Republicans in Congress must be for programs, for example, which 60% of the American people support, just as those passed in the 104th Congress were supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.  Yet, with all the talk about the need for compromise, the American people voted for the status quo  --  for continued divided government  --  to check the out-of-control spending and tax increasing by the Democrats.

The leader of the Republicans in Congress, Speaker John Boehner, does not have to capitulate  --  in Bob Michel fashion  --  to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  The American people do not expect that and the Republican base would be angry if Speaker Boehner did indeed surrender to the Democrats.

There are a number of areas where the Republicans can compromise with the Democrats including income tax reform (tens of billions of deductions can be eliminated) and commonsense immigration reform (pass a bipartisan bill authored by Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL.)

However, as Republican Representative James Lankford from Oklahoma was quoted saying in “The New York Times” on Sunday:  “The message from this election for me seems to be, ‘You guys keep going.’  The Senate was rewarded for inactivity, the House was rewarded for standing up for its principles and the president was rewarded for his.  I was elected by my district to represent their values.  I really don’t approach this and say, ‘Now, I’ve got to cave to what the Senate or president want.’”

The Republicans in Congress who want to get elected, without a primary challenge, are indeed going to have to remember this warning from a reelected freshman as they cast votes during the next two years.  It is hard to believe that the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives desire to go down the path that the failed minority leader Bob Michel took during 14 years as the Republican minority leader.