Ron Klain notes a parallel between the current political climate and the increased bipartisanship that emerged in 1996 in his column, “Will Republicans Cooperate With Obama Like It’s 1996?”
Newt Gingrich’s return to prominence may not last, but it should stir memories of the last time he was a major figure on the national scene. Indeed, revisiting the events of 1996 allows us to imagine a different scenario for this election year than most observers expect.
Back in 1995, as in 2011, powerful Republican leaders (including Gingrich, then speaker of the House) faced a Democratic president who had been weakened by a stinging midterm defeat. They blocked the president’s initiatives, and tried to use their power in Congress to bring him down. By the end of 1995, gridlock had reached a new high with the government shutdown and the failure of budget talks between the White House and Congress. Sound familiar?
Most experts expected things to get even worse in 1996. Then, a few things happened to change that outcome. Bill Clinton, the Democratic president, regained his footing, sharpened his message for re-election and was buoyed by improving economic news. Congress grew less popular as voters became dissatisfied with the lack of progress and obstructionism. There were mounting signs of another tidal wave election, this one to sweep out the new Republican members who had been seated in the previous election. As 1996 unfolded, the party lost enthusiasm for its lackluster emerging nominee, Bob Dole.
The result: Gingrich and fellow Republican leaders in Congress decided to work with Clinton to pass a raft of important legislation. These included a balanced budget deal, an extension of health-care coverage (the Kennedy-Kassebaum Act) and sweeping welfare reform.