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The GOP’s Contract with America

By TJ Ray

Surely you remember boom boxes and Rubik cubes and girls’ penny loafers. Fads are curious developments. One person sees something and decides it is neat or worth imitating, and it catches on. Sort of like a mild virus, most fads die quietly unless the very object or act is significant enough to lodge itself in our world.

And, more recently, you may recall this bold announcement by some political candidates:

“I will only serve one term if elected.” In their 1994 promise, Contract with America, most Republican candidates pledged to vote for a constitutional amendment to limit congressional terms.

The Contract with America was the conservative action of more than 300 Republican Congressional candidates who signed it. Led by the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the contract was presented at a Sept. 27, 1994 press conference.

Twenty-three years ago this fall, 367 Republican candidates from all around the country gathered on the West Front steps of the U.S. Capitol and signed the Contract with America.

Their promise was quite simple: “Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace.” The following is a list of what they intended to do on the first day of the new Congress.

First: Require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress.

Second: Select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse.

Third: Cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third.

Fourth: Limit the terms of all committee chairs.

Fifth: Ban the casting of proxy votes in committee.

Sixth: Require committee meetings to be open to the public.

Seventh: Require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase.

Eighth: Guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

Having presented an immediate agenda, those bold folks listed what they intended to accomplish in the first 100 days of the Congress:

1. The Fiscal Responsibility Act: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.

2. The Taking Back Our Streets Act: An anti-crime package including stronger truth-in-sentencing, “good faith” exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty  provisions, and cuts in social spending from this summer’s “crime” bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools.

3. The Personal Responbility Act:  Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.

4. The Family Reinforcement Act:  Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children’s education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in American society.

5. The American Dream Restoration Act: 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.

6. The National Security Restoration Act: No U.S. troops under U.N. command and restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding to strengthen our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world.

7. The Senior Citizens Fairness Act: Raise the Social Security earnings limit which currently forces seniors out of the work force, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let older Americans keep more of what they have earned over the years.

8. The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act: Small business incentives, capital gains cut 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.

9. The Common Sense Legal Reform Act: “Loser pays” laws, reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the endless tide of litigation.

10. The Citizen Legislature Act: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators.

Most of those who signed have since reneged on their promise to voters not to run again. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a list of those folks that copped out of pursuing those lofty goals? Wouldn’t it be interesting to for an interviewer to ask Mr. Gingrich what he thinks of the aborted bid for improving his old House?

TJ RAY is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.