Skip to comments.Whatever Happened to the Contract with America?
Posted on 06/24/2008 11:48:43 AM PDT by CWWren
Dick Armey is the chairman of FreedomWorks. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma and taught at the University of Montana, West Texas State University, Austin College, and the University of North Texas. Elected to Congress in 1984, he was the principal author of the Contract with America in 1994 and served as U.S. House Majority Leader from 1995-2003. Dr. Armey is the author of four books, including, most recently, Armeys Axioms: 40 Hard-Earned Truths from Politics, Faith, and Life.
The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on January 27, 2008.
BOTH THE CREATION of the Contract with America in 1994 and its subsequent abandonment can be explained in terms of the conflict in government between what I call legislative entrepreneurs and legislative bureaucrats. In 1994, when we wrote the Contract, entrepreneurs were strong. Today, as most of the time, bureaucrats are running things.
By legislative entrepreneur, I mean a person who has a set of principles and is willing to take risks on its behalf. A legislative bureaucrat, by contrast, seeks only to perpetuate the current situation with the motive of remaining safely in office. The fact that legislative bureaucrats are usually in command reminds me of Armeys Axiom Number One: The market is rational. The government is dumb. I know the former to be true as someone who has studied economics. I know the latter to be true as someone who spent a long time in Congress.
One of the greatest entrepreneurial moments in the history of human government was the writing of our Constitution. Americas Founders understood clearly what it means to accomplish a goal on behalf of ideas and principles that rise above self-interest. George Washington might have become our king, but chose not to. His governing idea was that government is our servant because we are inherently free. It is an idea too many in government today forget.
In politics, every great enterprise eventually falls into the hands of what I call legislative bureaucrats. This explains the ongoing debate in Congress today over whether we even need to pay attention to the Constitution, and over whether the governments power should indeed be limited, as our Founders believed, to upholding liberty. It has fallen now to future legislative entrepreneurs on the conservative side of the aisle to revive that central concept of America.
There have been only three great moments of pro-Constitution entrepreneurship in my adult lifetime. The first of these was the presidential campaign of 1964, when Barry Goldwater tried courageously to remind the nation why our Founders thought it vital to limit government. Needless to say, Goldwater suffered a landslide electoral defeat. But he galvanized the modern conservative movement, which rose from the ashes of his failed campaign.
The second great moment was Ronald Reagans presidential campaign in 1980this one wildly successfulwhich was run, like Goldwaters, on a consistently principled platform of limited government. Reagans election inspired me and many other conservatives to run for office. And the eight years following can largely be characterized as a struggle between constitutionalists who wished to restore limits on government and the always more numerous bureaucrats, both in the executive departments and in Congress. Fortunately, for most of his presidency, Reagan and his allies prevailed. But when George H.W. Bush took office in 1989, riding Reagans coattails, the bureaucrats began taking over again, and the Reagan Revolution had almost completely dissipated by the time Bill Clinton was elected in 1992.
The third great political moment in my lifetime was the Contract with America in 1994. In the run-up to the congressional elections that year, Hillary Clinton had been touting her government-run, command-and-control health care plan and scaring the devil out of the American people. The Republican leadership decided to capitalize on this terrible plan, seeking to seize power for the sake of implementing pro-Constitution policies. And the idea worked: Republicans took control of Congress that year in dramatic fashion, largely due to the Contract with America.
Those of us who signed on to the Contract were devoted to rolling back government as much as we could. The biggest success of those yearsand a superb example of legislative entrepreneurshipwas welfare reform. President Clinton vetoed it twice, but we saw it through, and it has worked marvelously well. It became such a great success, in fact, that Clinton eventually claimed it as the best idea he ever had! The lesson here for limited government conservatives is that they must not be afraid to dare.
Ever since the successes of the Contract with America, the balance in our government has moved slowly but surely from entrepreneurship back to bureaucracy. One day I found myself in a House leadership meeting, and I realized that we were coming to town each week and doing things we werent supposed to be doing. We justified this by telling ourselves that we needed to hold on to the majority in order to do the things we should be doing.
In the end, the Republican Congressin the two or three years leading up to the Democratic victories in 2006had utterly forsaken its commitment to liberty and limited government, with the often active acquiescence of the White House. This brings me to another one of Armeys Axioms: If its only about power, you lose.
The Republican majority, having forgotten the lessons of 1994 and having committed themselves only to the next election, not only failed their country but lost their power.
They call it 'The Contract ON America.'
Armey was my Congressman for a while, my wife worked as a volunteer in his local (Texas) office. He mentioned - in this speech - one of his axioms. That reminded me of a book he wrote that is an excellent summary of the attitude that made this country great: http://www.amazon.com/Armeys-Axioms-Hard-Earned-Truths-Politics/dp/0471469130
The Contract With America promised Term Limits and they did not even attempt to deliver on that promise.
Who do I sue for “Breach of Contract”?
They actually voted on it; it got a majority of votes, but 2/3 were needed because the Constitution would have had to be amended.
I suppose there are diehard Republicans who, like diehard Democrats, are only interested in power. As it turns out the Democrat loss in ‘94 was as meaningless as the Republican loss in ‘06.
Whatever Happened to the Contract with America?
What happened to the GoP?
Now the Newt-ster is on every channel I turn to telling us how to get it right the next time.
Thanks for nothing, Newt. Do us a favor and go away.
Not completely true. The Republicans held Clinton at bay; got Welfare Reform done. Unfortunately, they got caught up in the love of power and forgot the purpose of service.
Yes they did.
It passed, but not by 2/3rds majority.
Such a change would be unconstitutional without an amendment, which is never going to happen in this lifetime or the next.
It's easy to promise to do everything within your power on an issue, when you really don't have all that much power to affect it.
Besides, it really should be up to the voters to "term limit" their politicians. If they don't do it in the voting booth, its because they really don't want term limits. They want the politicians from other districts or states to have term limits.
Why make a promise they knew they could never deliver?
The Contract with America was never honored and fell by the wayside like so many promises that politicians make.
McCain and the rest of the RINO’s are busying flushing it as we speak...
I think the ‘Contract WITH America’ was exchanged for the current ‘Contract ON America’. Soprano style.
It was honored .. until Gingrich left and then
George “Lyndon Johnson Great Society part 2” Bush
got elected. He got together with his Nixon left over cronies and expanded the federal government and federal powers and the Republican Congress got right in bed with him. I hope that bump and the whole Bush family goes broke when he leaves office in Jan and they all have to live
with the socialist globalist world they helped create.
The Contract didn’t promise to pass legislation, it promised a vote. The Contract was fulfilled.
Implementation got DELAYed.
The promise was to address the issue and bring it up for a vote. They kept that promise.
Contract for America was beaten into submission when Bill Clinton aided by the media blamed the government shutdown on the mean and nasty conservatives.
Conservatives played their part by running away like scalded dogs with their tails between their legs.
Many of the Republicans elected in 1994 signed a 3-term limit pledge.
Most of them ran again in 2000. The lying bums.
Those that ran on it kept their word. They were replaced by Rockefeller Republicans who went native.
What happened to the GoP? -Norm
Topsy! “jes’ keeps growin’ ‘n’ growin’”
* Department of Agriculture (USDA)
* Department of Commerce (DOC)
* Department of Defense (DOD)
* Department of Education (ED)
* Department of Energy (DOE)
* Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
* Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
* Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
* Department of Justice (DOJ)
* Department of Labor (DOL)
* Department of State (DOS)
* Department of the Interior (DOI)
* Department of the Treasury
* Department of Transportation (DOT)
* Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Independent Agencies and Government Corporations
Independent establishments are created by Congress to address concerns that go beyond the scope of ordinary legislation. These agencies are responsible for keeping the government and economy running smoothly.
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X-Z
* Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
* African Development Foundation
* AMTRAK (National Railroad Passenger Corporation)
* Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
* Commission on Civil Rights
* Commodity Futures Trading Commission
* Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
* Corporation for National and Community Service
* Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia
* Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
* Election Assistance Commission
* Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
* Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
* Export-Import Bank of the United States
* Farm Credit Administration
* Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
* Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
* Federal Election Commission (FEC)
* Federal Housing Finance Board
* Federal Labor Relations Authority
* Federal Maritime Commission
* Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
* Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
* Federal Reserve System
* Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
* Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
* General Services Administration (GSA)
* Institute of Museum and Library Services
* Inter-American Foundation
* International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB)
* Merit Systems Protection Board
* National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
* National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
* National Capital Planning Commission
* National Council on Disability
* National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)
* National Endowment for the Arts
* National Endowment for the Humanities
* National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
* National Mediation Board
* National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK)
* National Science Foundation (NSF)
* National Transportation Safety Board
* Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
* Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
* Office of Compliance
* Office of Government Ethics
* Office of Personnel Management
* Office of Special Counsel
* Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive
* Overseas Private Investment Corporation
* Panama Canal Commission
* Peace Corps
* Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
* Postal Regulatory Commission
* Railroad Retirement Board
* Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
* Selective Service System
* Small Business Administration (SBA)
* Social Security Administration (SSA)
* Tennessee Valley Authority
* U.S. Trade and Development Agency
* United States Agency for International Development
* United States International Trade Commission
* United States Postal Service (USPS)
Boards, Commissions and Committees
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X-Z
* Administrative Committee of the Federal Register
* American Battle Monuments Commission
* Appalachian Regional Commission
* Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board)
* Arctic Research Commission
* Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee
* Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation
* Broadcasting Board of Governors (Voice of America, Radio|TV Marti and more)
* Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
* Chief Acquisition Officers Council
* Chief Financial Officers Council
* Chief Human Capital Officers Council
* Chief Information Officers Council
* Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee
* Commission of Fine Arts
* Commission on Helping to Enhance the Livelihood of People around the Globe (HELP Commission)
* Commission on International Religious Freedom
* Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission)
* Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States
* Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction
* Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
* Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements
* Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States
* Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
* Delaware River Basin Commission
* Denali Commission
* Endangered Species Committee
* Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board
* Federal Advisory Committees
* Federal Executive Boards
* Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council
* Federal Financing Bank
* Federal Geographic Data Committee
* Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds
* Federal Interagency Committee on Education
* Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy
* Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer
* Federal Library and Information Center Committee
* Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
* Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Commission
* Indian Arts and Crafts Board
* Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group
* Interagency Council on Homelessness
* Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
* J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board
* James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation
* Japan-United States Friendship Commission
* Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries
* Joint Fire Science Program
* Marine Mammal Commission
* Migratory Bird Conservation Commission
* Millennium Challenge Corporation
* Mississippi River Commission
* Morris K. Udall Foundation: Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy
* National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare
* National Commission on Libraries and Information Science
* National Indian Gaming Commission
* National Park Foundation
* Northwest Power Planning Council
* Nuclear Regulatory Commission
* Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
* Postal Commission
* President’s Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond
* President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency
* Presidio Trust
* Regulatory Information Service Center
* Social Security Advisory Board
* Susquehanna River Basin Commission
* Taxpayer Advocacy Panel
* United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
* Veterans Day National Committee
* Vietnam Educational Foundation
* White House Commission on Presidential Scholars “Presidential Scholars Program”
* White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance
Quasi-official agencies are not officially executive agencies but are required by statute to publish certain information on their programs and activities in the Federal Register.
* Legal Services Corporation
* Smithsonian Institution
* State Justice Institute
* United States Institute of Peace
Name those on the above captioned list, which have some resemblance to the directions by our Founders.
1 point for every correct answer, and a bonus of 20 points if you can give the reason why we have an Internal Revenue Service (service???).
I think you are mistaken on this count. The Contract said they would bring the matter up for a vote in the House within 100 days. It did not promise to pass the law. They have no control over the Senate and what the White House does with a bill once it gets there.
As I recall they kept the commitments in the Contract with 10 days to spare.
If that is the case, why did so many of them run for re-election in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006?
I understand that they had no control over the Senate and the House however, they did have control over their decision to run for re-election again, again, again, again, again, again and again!
I don't think we have the time left to have the luxury of being purist about the past of those who can help us.
“The Contract With America promised Term Limits and they did not even attempt to deliver on that promise.”
Why would they want to quit, they are so loved by the public./ssssssss
Yes they did. Just becasue it didn't get anywhere doesn't mean they didn't try to pass it. Everything in the contract was brought forward in the House in the first 100 days of that Congress. Most of it got stalled in the Senate.
In fact the GOP lost many of it's brightest conservative lights in the House due to self imposed Term Limits by members of that 1994 Congress.
I agree it should be up to the voters in the individual states to impose term limits by not supporting their guys and gals after a couple of terms, but the power the office holder gets from the office is more than enough to sway the local voters. The only way it will ever work is with a constitutional amendment. I'm not holding my breath.
The difference between the GoP and DNC: When in the minority, the Dems still act like they are the majority. When in the majority, the Repubs act like they are the minority.
Many Republicans became RINOs and discovered the world of pork and earmarks along with their zest to be pushed around by the more aggressive Democrats.
“I hope that bump and the whole Bush family goes broke when he leaves office..”
I hope you don’t hold your breath until that happens — I heard that he bought a huge ranch in Paraguay. When all collapses in this country you’ll be eating his burgers and beef if you can afford them. Politicians ALWAYS take care of themselves first.