Contract with America

From Academic Kids

The Contract with America was a document released during the 1994 Congressional election campaign by the United States Republican Party. It detailed the actions that the Republicans would take upon becoming the majority party in Congress.

Contents

Role and Uses of the Contract

The Contract with America was introduced six weeks before the 1994 Congressional election; it was signed by all but two of the Republican members of the House of Representatives, and all of the party's non-incumbent Republican candidates for that body. It laid out the plans of the Republicans in a very specific way; the Contract was revolutionary in its commitment to specific actions. It was the first time that a Congressional election had been run on such a national level. The Contract represented a triumph of Newt Gingrich and the American conservative movement.

The pollster Frank Luntz was a pollster with the Contract with America, and his career blossomed after his work with Gingrich.

Content of the Contract

The Contract's actual text was a list of actions the Republicans promised to take if they were in the majority following the election. During the construction of the Contract, Gingrich insisted on "60% issues", meaning that the Contract avoided making promises on more controversial and divisive issues, such as abortion or School prayer. According to Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, more than half of its text was taken verbatim from Reagan's 1985 State of the Union address. The promises were a conservative wish-list, made up of two parts.

The first day of the GOP majority

On the first day of their majority, the Republicans promised to pass eight reforms in the way government was operated, including auditing Congress for wasteful spending, cutting Congressional committee staff, and requiring a 3/5 majority (rather than the traditional simple majority) to pass tax increases. These reforms were mostly aimed at correcting perceived defects in how government was run by reducing the power of what the Republicans saw as entrenched Congressional leadership that didn't represent the country.

The first 100 days of the GOP majority

During the first 100 days of the Congress, the Republicans pledged "to bring to the floor the following bills, each to be given a full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote, and each to be immediately available for public inspection". The text of the proposed bills was included in the Contract, which was released prior to the election. These bills were not governmental reforms, as the previous promises were; rather, they represented significant changes to policy. The main features included tax cuts for businesses and individuals, term limits for legislators, and welfare reform.

Impacts of the Contract

Some observers cite the Contract with America as having helped secure a decisive victory for the Republicans in the 1994 elections; others dispute this role, noting its late introduction into the campaign. Whatever the role of the Contract, Republicans were elected to a majority, and many parts of the Contract were enacted (although many others either did not pass Congress, were vetoed by President Bill Clinton, or were substantially altered in negotiations with Clinton).

Critics of the contract sometimes referred to it as the "Contract on America".

Implementation of the Contract

The Contract had promised ten bills to implement major reform of the Federal Government. When the 104th Congress assembled in January 1995, the Republican majority sought to implement the Contract.

In some cases (e.g. The National Security Restoration Act and The Personal Responsibility Act), the proposed bills were accomplished by a single act analogous to that which had been proposed in the Contract; in other cases (e.g. The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act), a proposed bill's provisions were split up across multiple acts.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act

An amendment to the US Constitution that would require a balanced budget, unless sanctioned by a 3/5 vote in both Houses of Congress (H.J.Res.1, passed by the US House 279-152, 1/4/95; rejected by the US Senate 65-35, 3/2/95), and provide the President with a line-item veto (H.R.2, passed by the US House 294-134, 2/6/95).

The Taking Back Our Streets Act

An anti-crime package including stronger truth-in-sentencing, "good faith" exclusionary rule exemptions (H.R.666, passed 289-142 2/8/95), effective death penalty provisions (H.R.729, passed 297-132 2/8/95), funding prison construction (H.R.667, passed 265-156 2/10/95, rc#117) and additional law enforcement (H.R.728, passed 238-192 2/14/95).

The Personal Responsibility Act

An act to cut spending for welfare programs by means of discouraging illegitimacy and teen pregnancy. This would be achieved by prohibiting welfare to mothers under 18 years of age, denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, and enacting a two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility. H.R.4, the Family Self-Sufficiency Act, included provisions giving food vouchers to unwed mothers under 18 in lieu of cash AFDC benefits, denying cash AFDC benefits for additional children to people on AFDC, requiring recipients to participate in work programs after 2 years on AFDC, complete termination of AFDC payments after 5 years, and suspending driver and professional licenses of people who fail to pay child support. H.R.4, passed by the US House 234-199, 3/23/95, and passed by the US Senate 87-12, 9/19/95.

The American Dream Restoration Act

An act to create a $500 per child tax credit, begin repeal of the marriage tax penalty, and creation of American Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle class tax relief. H.R.1215, passed 246-188, 4/5/95.

The National Security Restoration Act

An act to prevent U.S. troops from serving under United Nations command unless the President determines its necessity for the purposes of national security, to cut US payments for UN Peacekeeper operations, and to help establish guidelines for the voluntary integration of former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO. H.R.7, passed 241-181, 2/16/95.

The "Common Sense" Legal Reform Act

An act to institute "Loser pays" laws (H.R.988, passed 232-193, 3/7/95), reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the flood of frivolous litigation (H.R.956, passed 265-161, 3/10/95). Another legal reform bill, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act was enacted in 1995 when Congress overrode a veto by President Bill Clinton.

The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act

A package of measures to act as small business incentives: capital gains cuts and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages. Although this was listed as a single bill in the Contract, its provisions ultimately made it to the House Floor as four different bills:

  • H.R.5, requiring Federal funding for state spending mandated by Congressional action, and estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost more than $50m per year, was passed 360-74, 2/1/95.
  • H.R.450 required a moratorium on the implementation of Federal regulations until June 30th 1995, and was passed 276-146, 2/24/95.
  • H.R.925 required Federal compensation to be paid to property owners when Federal Government actions reduced the value of the property by 20% of more, and was passed 277-148, 3/3/95.
  • H.R.926, passed 415-14 on 3/1/95, required Federal agencies to provide a cost/benefit analysis on any regulation costing $50m or more annually, to be signed off on by the Office of Management and Budget, and permitted small businesses to sue that agency if they believed the aforementioned analysis was performed inadequately or incorrectly.

The Citizen Legislature Act

An amendment to the US Constitution that would have imposed 12-year term limits on members of the US Congress (i.e. 6 terms for Representatives, 2 terms for Senators). H.J.Res.73 rejected by the US House 227-204 (a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority not a simple majority), 3/29/95; RC #277 (http://clerk.house.gov/evs/1995/roll277.xml).

Other sections of the Contract

This article does not yet provide complete coverage of the fate of the Contract With America; it is specifically missing details of the proposed Family Reinforcement Act (tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children's education, stronger child pornography laws, an elderly dependent care tax credit) and the Senior Citizens Fairness Act (raise the Social Security earnings limit, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance).

Was the Contract a success?

The Contract With America is considered a success by its supporters principally for two reasons. First, it achieved its principal aim, which was the election of a Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives. Second, despite the failure of many sections of the Contract to pass the Senate or overcome President Clinton's veto, the Republican leadership did introduce bills that would have implemented virtually everything they had promised to introduce in the Contract.

As a blueprint for the policy of the new Congressional majority, Micklethwait & Wooldridge argue in The Right Nation that the Contract placed the Congress firmly back in the driving seat of domestic government policy for most of the 104th Congress, and placed the Clinton White House firmly on the defensive.

Sources

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