Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A shorter step to corruption

When you are ideologically bankrupt.

But a decade later, the fervor of the 1994 "Republican Revolution" has been tempered by a resolve to keep control of the House. GOP leaders are choosing pragmatism over populist zeal on many issues, and are treating the minority as unfairly as they were treated for decades under Democratic rule.

What's more, several Republican leaders, most recently House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, have become snared in ethics scandals similar to those that led to the Democrats' downfall. The record is a reminder that the temptation by the majority party to abuse its status is a bipartisan failing.

Certainly, House Republicans have been true to their word in adopting two-thirds of the 75 policy changes itemized in their contract - from cutting taxes to getting tougher on crime. Yet many of their promised reforms have been watered down. And some of the biggest pledges remain unfulfilled:

Reducing government. Efforts to slash the government's size triggered a fierce public backlash when Republican lawmakers forced a government shutdown in December 1995 in a budget dispute with President Clinton (news - web sites). Today, the federal government, as a share of the economy, is roughly the same size as when the Republicans took charge, and federal spending in the past decade has climbed 59%, more than twice the rate of inflation.

Balancing the budget. A promised balanced-budget amendment was never passed by the House, but the budget did get balanced for four years, 1998-2001, mainly because of an economic boom and a political stalemate with Clinton that blocked big spending increases and tax cuts. Now that Republicans control both the White House and Congress, the deficit is soaring again to an expected record $422 billion this year.

Reforming Congress. Congress gave up its exemptions from 11 workplace laws and imposed term limits on committee chairmen. But limits on lawmakers' terms - an unnecessary infringement on voters' prerogatives - were never passed. An early crackdown on conflicts-of-interest abuses, such as accepting gifts from lobbyists, has since been quietly eased.

Taking a page from the Republicans' 1994 playbook, Democrats held a rally outside the Capitol last week to proclaim their commitment to "six core values" - including defense, education, job creation and fiscal responsibility - that they hope will help them win back their majority in the House.

But as the GOP's decade of control - and the Democrats' dominance before - has shown, those pledges are quickly sacrificed if they get in the way of preserving power.

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