Struggle in the House: Barney and Newt
“The Republican party in the House is the most disciplined political party we have ever seen in the history of America… Newt Gingrich has greater power over the House than anyone has ever held before.”
That is Barney Frank speaking, the Massachusetts representative who has become the Democrats’ rhetorical standard-bearer in this time of defeat and confusion for his party.1 Moderate Republicans are afraid to break ranks. When Carrie Meek, the black representative from Florida, criticized Gingrich’s four-and-a-half-million dollar contract with a publishing company owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Republicans not only shut her up but struck her words from the record. Frank said they would never have treated the black former domestic this way in the past. After all, he says, “She looks like she just came from nursing Miss Scarlett,” though she is a shrewd user of that image. “Peter Torkildsen [Republican from Massachusetts] was quoted the next day in the Boston Globe saying, ‘I don’t think her remarks should have been stricken from the record’—but he voted that way.”
Frank says it is almost comic the way Republicans scurry to prove their loyalty to the party line. After moving to turn crime funds over to the states for discretionary use, some Republicans in the House wanted to show their support for favorite anti-crime devices; so they added amendments saying that the funds would allow matters “including but not limited to” drug education or to programs against domestic violence. These were meaningless because the discretionary power by definition included such things. Then Representative Pat Schroeder added that funds could be used to protect abortion clinics at the states’ discretion—again, something included implicitly. Even this meaningless move could not pass the ideological police: “Henry Hyde jumped all over them,” and the Republicans, who wanted to give the states discretion, noted that policing abortion clinics could not be expressly included in that discretion. Some of the moderates voting with Hyde are pro-choice themselves, but they could not let the words “abortion clinic” soil a Republican bill. “They are really taking orders,” Frank concludes.
In this climate, Frank always expected most of the Republicans’ Contract to pass. “After all, these are items they pre-selected, poll-tested, and figured would have the maximum appeal.” Even the things some Republicans hope will not pass—notably term limits—can be considered “passed” since they only promised to bring the matter to a vote. Frank says: “That is like a car salesman saying, ‘I didn’t make a contract to sell you a car, only to show you a car.’ ” Others are procedural: they say the budget will be balanced one day in the future, without saying how that will be done. It is like a person facing a diet by resolving, “I’ll weigh 150 pounds next year,” without saying what he will eat tomorrow. These things do…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.