First day of Congress, 1995 - Newly elected Speaker Newt Gingrich outlines the first 100 days, The Contract With America and big heaps of Brotherly Love.
Since we're knee-deep in the New Congress today, I thought I would take a look back at a couple of other "first days" of Congress in history. This one, most memorable from 1995, signified a shift in the power base from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority, the first in 40 years.
Newt Gingrich became Majority leader and almost instantly the proclamations of brotherly love and promises of bipartisanship flowed. As opposed to the very same party that has enjoyed a history of threatening filibusters, veto's and a well-documented reputation as The Party Of No. Ah, but the shoe is on the other foot and all that rancor flies out the window when the sniff of power wafts through the room, at least for a little while.
Speaker Newt Gingrich: “On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government. 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 staffs by a third. Fourth – limit the terms of all committee chairs. Fifth – ban the casting of proxy votes in committees. Sixth – require committee meetings to be open to the public. Seventh – require a 3/5 majority vote to pass a tax increase. Eighth – guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal budget by implementing zero base line budgeting. Now, I told Dick (Gephardt) last night that, if I had to do it over again we would have pledged within three days we’ll do these things. That’s not what we said. So we got ourselves in a little bit of a box.”
And the "little bit of a box" would only grow larger over the following months. The honeymoon and proclamations of love and bipartisanship would quickly evaporate and battle lines were quickly drawn. And after it was all over, the most important issue, the budget, didn't change.