The conservative interval: What did it accomplish?
There are many more issues to address, but it is 3:40 a.m. and I am not going to address them all tonight. Let's look at it this way: The Republicans controlled the House for 12 years–the third longest period of Republican control in history (after 1895-1911 and 1861-75). Democrats of course had a majority in the House (though their leaders often didn't have control) for a far longer period of 40 years (1955-95) and also for a 16-year period (1931-47). But let's look back on the Republican period recently. What did they accomplish?
To answer that question, I think you have to look beyond Capitol Hill and consider the whole country. The big public-policy successes of the 1990s were welfare reform and crime control. Welfare dependency and violent crime were cut by more than 50 percent–more than anyone in 1990 thought possible. Key initiatives were taken not in Congress, but in the states and cities–on welfare reform by governors like Tommy Thompson, on crime control by mayors like Rudy Giuliani in New York City. Most of them were Republicans, but may were Democrats. Also, education reforms were undertaken, again more by Republicans (like George Bush and Jeb Bush in Texas and Florida) but also by some Democrats (like Jim Hunt in North Carolina). In all this, Congress and the Clinton and Bush administrations were interested and occasionally helpful bystanders. The Republican Congress passed welfare reform three times and, after Dick Morris told Clinton he had to sign it, he did so. Bush got a bipartisan majority to pass a federal education accountability bill that built on the successful actions of many states. Gun control, a federal initiative which had no realistic possibility of really reducing crime, was passed by a Democratic Congress in 1994. But the more realistic proposals, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons and therefore to deter violent criminals from attacking decent bystanders, have been making steady progress in the states to the point that they now hold sway in states with more than two thirds the nation's population.
The Republican Congress deserves great credit for resisting proposals to create the sort of government-run healthcare systems that are bankrupting Western Europe. The 1997 budget deal between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton cut the increases in healthcare expenses sharply; when that inspired protests against HMOs, the Republican Congress averted provisions that would have subjected them to regulation by government and predation by trial lawyers. Instead, employees exercised the option of exit (people who didn't like HMOs got out from under them). The Medicare prescription drug bill of 2003, a vast expansion of government entitlements, created a field of competition that dragged premium costs below expected levels, allowed grievants the option of exit and opened up the field of expanded options to high-deductible health savings accounts. The Democratic House will try to turn the clock back on these advances, but will probably not succeed during the next two years. The Democrats would like us to go slouching toward Scandinavia, even while Sweden and the Netherlands move in our direction to more healthcare options.
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