Certainly the revolutionary rhetoric of the early days of the 104th Congress established lofty expectations. The Contract with America called for a dramatic reduction in the size of government and a shift in spending priorities. Shortly after the 1994 election, House Speaker Gingrich triumphantly declared that Republicans would “radically transform the way government works by Easter.”
To be sure, the GOP did grind out some impressive accomplishments in its first year. Congressional Republicans cornered President Clinton into committing to a balanced budget by 2002. Congress enacted the first credible welfare reform package since then‐President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty 35 years ago. The 1995 farm bill, while still deeply flawed, was the most market‐oriented overhaul of the system in many years. Moreover, since November 1994, the economy has accelerated and there has been a record bull market on Wall Street. The Republican Congress also is poised to pass the first federal tax cut since 1981.
Arguably, the most tangible achievement of the congressional Republicans and President Clinton has been the dramatic decline in the budget deficit since Republicans took control of Capitol Hill. But the deficit reduction is attributable almost entirely to reductions in defense spending. Social spending has actually accelerated under the GOP Congress.
The trend is in the direction of budget accommodation. In 1995 Republicans increased spending by $48 billion; in1996, by $63 billion; and now the 1997 budget will rise by a minimum of another $70 billion. And every year there are multi‐billion‐dollar emergency supplemental spending requests to help victims of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.
Domestic spending rises by 5.4% in 1998, or twice the inflation rate, under the bipartisan budget deal. To camouflage the escalation of spending, Republicans have reverted to the deceptive rhetoric of current services baseline budgeting — a practice Republicans ridiculed as a farce when in the minority. The 1997 budget deal also resorts to the time‐honored tradition of front‐loading spending increases and back loading, several years later, spending reduction promises. Republicans in the 105th Congress have promised that future Congresses will exercise a level of fiscal restraint that they themselves will not.