Their Contract with America mentioned many positive objectives but no mention of a huge tax cut for the wealthiest tax payers. The public expected a change in how government works but the only change has been in not how, but for whom, it works.
The list of their misconceptions in the budget battle are many, too. First, they expected the President to accept the power of the Republican mandate (58% of only 31% of eligible voters, a total of only 17% of all voters) and accept whatever budget they sent. He didn't.
Next, they seemed to believe that they could drastically alter the entire federal health-care system, Medicare and Medicaid, without hearings or public debate. The President's use of these issues as among his reasons for refusing to sign their budget, and his simultaneous rise in the polls, showed that to be a mistake.
They also became so convinced of their party's moral superiority that they honestly didn't understand that they would be blamed for the impasse or the shutdown of government. They so hate government that they couldn't believe that the public would care if they shut it all down. The voters do care.
Finally, they have been beaten at nearly every turn by President Clinton, almost completely by accident. His staff has been deeply divided as to how to handle the negotiations, with hard-liners like George Stephanopulos counselling giving no quarter while Richard Morris recommends just making a deal and letting the Republicans answer to the voting public when the suffering their cuts will bring becomes apparent to all. The confusion of messages this division brings keeps the Republican leaders guessing as to just how the President will respond to their budget proposals.
The Republicans are even divided among themselves, with Gingrich and the Republican House freshmen wanting only their vision of our future honored in any new budget while Senator Robert Dole is desperate to get the whole thing over with so that he can begin campaigning for the presidency in earnest.
President Clinton, meanwhile, has apparently even been surprised, himself, by the ease with which he has been able to switch the focus of the debate from what the Republicans desire it to be (smaller government, less regulations, etc.) to one of casting the Republicans as extremists in their desire to remove environmental protections, destroy the health and welfare safety nets for the poor and elderly and as the instruments of the rich in their tax cuts.
He has even accepted their demand that any budget must be based on predictions of the Congressional Budget Office and offered a budget based on those figures that will, supposedly, balance the budget in the required seven years. Neither his nor Congress' offerings show the promise of actually balancing the budget in the forecasted time, though. Most independent auditors who have published their findings found both proposals falling far short of balance unless the economy grows at a rate that is nearly impossible to begin, let alone sustain. Neither also provide for the fact that, in 2008, the baby boomer's retirements will swamp Social Security and Medicare.
President Clinton has, so far, shown the public that what the Republicans offer will not solve our national problems, only create more. Now, all he and the Democrats must convince America is that, despite their history of bungling and petty scandals, they are the only party with answers to our current crises. That's a tall order, at best.
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