Memory Lane: Footnotes From Yesterday's Article

[ Posted Thursday, July 14th, 2011 – 16:46 UTC ]

Yesterday, I wrote an article which attempted to goad mainstream "journalists" into doing some basic research on the historic parallels between the all-consuming debt ceiling negotiations and what happened back in 1995 and 1996 between then-President Bill Clinton and then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. At the bottom of the article, I appended a note which apologized for the lack of links to the source articles I had used in my own research. Because I obtained these articles through a pay site (LexisNexis), I could not easily link to them for my readers.

Today, I'd like to excerpt some of those articles, as "footnotes" to yesterday's column. While copyright laws prevent me from just pasting whole articles in here, I am allowed fair usage excerpts, which is what you'll find below. The promise of the internet was supposed to be easy access to this sort of thing, but in recent years many media sites have locked off their archives behind paywalls, making it impossible to freely access this historical material.

I did run excerpts in this fashion once before in this debate, back in April, in an article titled "The More Things Change..." which you can also check out, if you're interested in this trip down Memory Lane.

-- Chris Weigant


Battle Over The Budget: The Overview; Treasury Takes Retirement Funds To Avert Default
New York Times, 11/16/95

The Treasury Department averted a national default on Wednesday by tapping two civil service retirement funds to cover interest payments on the Federal debt.

But Congress and the Clinton Administration made no progress in resolving their basic disputes over spending levels and priorities that kept the Government partly shut for a second day.

Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin said he had resorted to "extraordinary" actions, more sweeping than any required of his predecessors, in taking $61.3 billion from the retirement funds and replacing them with i.o.u.'s that do not count against the national debt limit of $4.9 trillion. He took enough to pay $25 billion in interest due on Wednesday and to meet bills coming due in the next few weeks.

"Based on current projections," he said, "those amounts enable operations to go forward through late December." But he added, "This is no way for a great nation to manage its financial affairs."

. . .

Republicans and Democrats each accused the other of manufacturing a crisis through intransigence and political opportunism, but no end was in sight. And on the second business day of the partial shutdown -- longer than any in the past -- Mr. Rubin said he had to take very broad steps to protect the nation's credit.

Mr. Rubin urged Congress to pass new legislation to raise the debt limit and to drop the provisions that led the President to veto a debt bill on Monday night. They included regulatory changes and a prohibition on the sort of actions that Mr. Rubin took on Wednesday to keep the Government afloat.

Congress was not focusing on the debt, but on ways to ameliorate the practical and political effects of the spending halts that have closed some Government offices and kept 800,000 Federal workers home.

The House passed a new stopgap spending bill shortly after midnight today, but included terms that Mr. Clinton said would require him to veto it. Speaker Newt Gingrich had told reporters this morning that the shutdown "could easily last 90 days."

Mr. Clinton, asked about that time estimate in an interview on the CBS Evening News, said he would not give in to the Republicans' "huge cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, the environment." He added, "I'm not going to do it, even if it's 90 days, 120 days or 180 days."

"If we take it right into the next election, let the American people decide," he continued. "If the American people want the budget they have proposed to be the law of the land, they're entitled to another President, and that's the only way they are going to get it."


Republicans Offer To Lift Debt Limit; Government Shutdown Strategy Dropped
Washington Post, 1/15/96

House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) said yesterday that Republicans are ready to raise the federal debt ceiling and abandon the strategy of shutting down the government.

In an apparent retreat from confrontational tactics, Kasich said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" that Republicans are willing to relent on the debt limit and government shutdowns, even though Congress and the White House are "miles and miles apart" in budget negotiations that are scheduled to resume Wednesday.

"We're going to raise the debt ceiling, in my opinion," he said. "We should.... My sense is you don't want to mess around with defaulting, here in the United States."

Kasich said the combative approach no longer was necessary because Republicans, who control Congress, had accomplished their goal of getting President Clinton to present a plan to balance the federal budget in seven years. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement on a balanced budget plan soon, Kasich said the issue should be decided by voters in November.

"The shutdown was all about how do you pressure an executive to do what an executive doesn't want to do," he said. "And frankly, I'm not sure what other ways there are to get him to do things. We're thrilled we pressured him into putting a plan on the table.... The situation is that we may have to take this to the election."

Republican lawmakers forced two partial closings of the federal government, in November and earlier this month, by refusing to approve permanent funding for some agencies until Clinton agreed to a balanced budget plan. Clinton vetoed a balanced budget plan that was presented in November, but workers were brought back to their jobs under temporary spending bills, the latest of which expires Jan. 26.

. . .

White House officials have insisted on a "clean" debt limit bill free of proposals unrelated to raising the limit. In November, for example, Clinton vetoed a bill that would have increased the debt limit but contained language that restricted the Treasury Department's ability to use federal trust funds to avoid default.

"I don't see how [administration officials] can expect a clean debt ceiling [bill] in a situation where they're refusing to negotiate in good faith and they're refusing to reach a serious balanced budget agreement," [Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich said.

But Gingrich also sounded a conciliatory note, saying, "We don't want a crisis, so I've told [White House officials that] we have to sit down and talk together about what they're willing to accept."

Gingrich said a clean debt ceiling proposal would not win more than 50 votes from the 233 House Republicans. "I can't imagine going to our membership and saying, 'We have this obligation to let President Clinton have a wide-open credit card. No matter what he does he always gets to have more debt so he can borrow more from our children.' "

Clinton administration officials were reluctant to read too deeply into Kasich's comments. White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, appearing on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," said he hoped Kasich's remarks reflected a broader shift in sentiment among GOP lawmakers on the debt issue. "I think in the end, Republicans and Democrats have to get together to make this happen so that we don't jeopardize our economic security," he said.

[Treasury Secretary Robert] Rubin, in Detroit to announce a new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms program, said Republicans should get the debt ceiling issue "off the table."

Some administration officials interpreted the statements by Kasich and Gingrich as evidence that the Republican lawmakers recognized that their tough-guy tactics had backfired.

When Republican lawmakers launched their budget battle with the White House more than a year ago, they believed that their threat to block an increase in the federal debt limit, which would raise the risk of a federal default, was an unbeatable political weapon.

But as the budget conflict nears its endgame, a growing number of GOP leaders see that weapon as a dud.

The threat of forcing the first default in U.S. history "isn't as strong a lever as we anticipated," acknowledged an aide to a group of House Republicans who have spent months plotting debt limit strategy.

The problem for Republicans is that even if they refuse to raise the debt limit, Rubin stands ready to employ even more creative fiscal measures to keep the government from default.

And while the Constitution grants Congress the power of the purse, GOP legislators probably can't do much to restrict Rubin's actions before elections in November.

Publicly, House Republicans have promised to raise a ruckus about any future account-juggling by the Treasury. Some have threatened noisy hearings while others are plotting legal challenges. House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B. Solomon has raised the prospect of impeachment proceedings against Rubin.

Treasury officials, meanwhile, are bracing for a bruising Republican assault on Rubin's credibility.

"This is going to be a very long year for Robert Rubin if he intends to continue bypassing the Congress on this issue," Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said last week in a telephone interview. Rubin's impeachment is a step the Republican leadership is looking at "very seriously," Shays said.

Privately, however, a number of senior GOP officials conceded the harsh rhetoric is mostly that -- rhetoric. Rubin, they said, has too many accounting options at his disposal. It could take months or years to sort out the legality of his actions in the courts. And many Republicans are wary about spooking the financial markets by launching combative impeachment proceedings, especially given the electorate's cool reaction to hard-line moves such as closing down the federal government.


Stung and Beset, Speaker Breaks Down and Weeps
Washington Post, 1/18/96

Tears streamed down Newt Gingrich's face as he sat in his chief of staff's office on the night of Dec. 6. It was near the end of another trying day. A telephone call had just brought the news that most of the charges filed against him by Democrats had been thrown out by the House ethics committee. But one charge remained, and a special counsel would be hired to investigate it. A friend in the room had interrupted a long silence by suggesting that the outcome seemed like a victory for the speaker.

"Yeah," Gingrich said, his voice choking. "But no one knows what my wife and kids have gone through for two and a half years of charge after charge after charge."

His wife, Marianne, who had arrived at the Capitol in time to hear the news, moved to embrace him, crying herself. An old congressional ally who had stopped by the office to talk about farm issues rose from his chair and hugged them both. Gingrich could no longer hold back his emotions.

He began sobbing uncontrollably.

It was not just the ethics decision that made him lose his composure that night, Gingrich explained later. It was everything. It was a year's accumulation of burdens from commanding his conservative revolution. It was the self-inflicted wounds. The public ridicule from his comments about being slighted by President Clinton during a long flight to Jerusalem and back on Air Force One. The drubbing he was taking in the polls and in the press. The grind of holding together his obstreperous rank and file. The struggle with an "old establishment" unhappy because he was "trying to change their world," as he put it.

. . .

For months Washington had been obsessed with the notion of a train wreck, that the philosophical collision of Republicans and Clinton would end in impasse, and that the federal government would run out of funds as a result.

Gingrich and his budget-cutting revolutionaries had in fact promised it, vowing to shut down the government to force Clinton to accept what only months before had seemed impossibly radical: a piece of legislation that would mandate the budget be balanced in seven years by dismantling and turning over to the states certain Great Society programs, harnessing the federal government's regulatory powers, reining in the once untouchable Medicare program.

Clinton could stop it with a veto, of course, but would he dare? Perhaps the fact that the train wreck was visible for so long made few people believe that it would actually happen. Certainly one side would stop, or both would move off to a track of compromise.

The train wreck did happen, but hardly with the result Republicans had envisioned. From the first time government closed in November, a few weeks before Gingrich's night of tears, through December and into the first weeks of January, the shutdown of government became the image most clearly etched in the public mind, not the struggle to balance the budget. The wreckage is everywhere.

The personal casualties include hundreds of thousands of federal workers who lost time and faced financial hardships, the companies dependent on government work that suffered and a larger number of American citizens who missed the services of their government. The political casualties have yet to be determined. Some count Gingrich among the wounded, and there is some evidence to support that argument.

His own troops, including members of his leadership team, became frustrated by his self-destructive comments, especially about his trip aboard Air Force One. "He picked the wrong bloody moment to take out a .357 and shoot both kneecaps off," one said. His position in the House was weakened by his efforts to maintain a unified front with [Senate Majority Leader Robert] Dole, who House members felt was too accommodating to the White House. And Gingrich's self-confidence was clearly eroded when he finally tried to negotiate a budget deal himself, a task at which he proved utterly inept, his trips to the White House ending in confusion and dismay as time after time he was seduced by Clinton and the atmosphere of the Oval Office.

. . .

Clinton, like his staff, was divided from the start. On one side was consultant Dick Morris, who had spent the year successfully helping Clinton reconstruct his image as a centrist and who believed that a budget deal was an important final step in that process. In Morris's calculation, the president had already won. Gingrich and the House Republicans had placed themselves in a politically untenable position by cutting Medicare and demanding a balanced budget in seven years, and they were merely looking for a graceful way to declare defeat and accept a budget agreement defined on Clinton's terms.

Just as the Republican position was weakened in part by Gingrich's petty reaction to the Air Force One incident, the Democratic side was changed by Clinton's personality and one of his apparent misstatements. The triangulation theory that Morris had designed for him, in which Clinton would set himself up as the voice of reason between Gingrich's revolutionaries and liberal Democrats in Congress, was rearranged from the moment early last fall when the president declared at a Houston fund-raiser that he regretted some of the tax hikes he successfully championed in 1993. That statement so infuriated Democrats in Congress that Clinton from then on became more solicitous of them.

Clinton thereafter stiffened his resolve as the forceful defender of social programs, forged a new bond with congressional Democrats and paid more attention to members of his staff who opposed a deal. Republicans found it harder to predict Clinton's actions. Gingrich believed throughout December that Clinton would abandon the liberals and strike a centrist deal. It was one of many ways the speaker would guess wrong.

One day in the middle of September, at the end of a meeting between congressional leaders and White House officials, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay sauntered up to Vice President Al Gore and said: "You have to realize we're serious. We'll shut down the government if we have to to balance the budget."

"Our polls show you guys lose if the government shuts down," Gore responded.

. . .

House Republicans returned from the Thanksgiving recess with a common refrain. Their constituents, they said, were telling them to hang tough on the balanced budget despite the plunging polls for Republican handling of the budget. And they were also passing the word along to "tell Newt to shut up!" as one put it. House GOP conference Chairman [John] Boehner heard it so many times that he mentioned it at a leadership meeting. It was point six of his regular communications report: "Tell Newt no more stories about airplanes!"

Gingrich did not laugh. Fifteen minutes later, steaming, he turned to Boehner and repeated the line. "No more stories about the airplane, right?"

But another Gingrich matter that week was far more troubling to Republican members of the House. On the first day back they had heard him suggest, after a meeting at the White House, that he might support Clinton's decision to send troops to Bosnia. Robert Walker, the Pennsylvania congressman who was Gingrich's oldest and closest friend in the House, visited him privately and expressed serious concern. The Republican House was solidly against Clinton's Bosnia policy, Walker warned. Gingrich was already in a vulnerable position with his troops.

Boehner arrived with an even blunter message. Like the other members of the House leadership team, Boehner had enormous respect for Gingrich as the father of the revolution. He considered Gingrich the smartest of the group and the only one who could lead them. Yet true conservatives like Boehner and Majority Whip DeLay did not consider Gingrich a conservative. They thought of him more as a radical, a doer, someone who wanted to change things. That sometimes made him unpredictable.

All day long members had been going up to Boehner asking about Gingrich and Bosnia. On Tuesday night, Nov. 28, Boehner visited Gingrich in his office.

"You already have an image problem with the airplane," Boehner said. "And now this thing with Bosnia. It's probably going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. There are people out there wanting to question whether you ought to be speaker."

It was, Boehner thought, the toughest thing he had had to do all year, like punching a friend in the stomach.

Gingrich took a deep breath. "What do you think I should do?" he asked.

"Lay low," Boehner said. "And for God's sakes, when it comes to Bosnia, just don't say anything."

Gingrich took the advice.


GOP Is Split On Raising Debt Ceiling; Armey Seeks to Force Concessions by Clinton
Washington Post, 1/22/96

House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) said yesterday House Republicans would make no move to raise the limit on federal borrowing authority without "substantial" budget concessions from President Clinton.

Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin has found numerous ways to come up with cash to keep the government running, despite the hold-down on the government's ability to borrow. But Rubin has warned that he is running out of options and that without an increase in the debt limit soon, the U.S. government could be forced into the first default in its history.

. . .

Even the most conservative House Republicans say privately that tough talk on the debt limit has hurt their party in the polls. But having staked out such clear opposition to raising the limit, they fear the consequences of voting for an increase without a balanced budget deal would be far worse.

Republicans in the Senate are less adamant about blocking an increase in the debt limit. On the ABC program yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) struck a slightly more accommodating stance than Armey. "I do think, at some point, that action will be taken on the debt ceiling," Lott said. But he added that "there may be some things on the debt ceiling other than just pure extension."

Armey said that any bill to raise the debt limit should include a provision to "terminate the Commerce Department" and contain legislative language that would "stop the treasury secretary from ... raiding the trust funds of federal workers."

In November, Clinton vetoed a bill to increase the debt ceiling that included such restrictions on the authority of the treasury secretary. "The president's position is we have to have a clean extension of the debt ceiling," Panetta said yesterday. "Let's not play games with the future of this country."

Some House Republicans have threatened impeachment proceedings against Rubin to stop him from employing additional accounting maneuvers to carve out additional borrowing room for Treasury. Armey distanced himself from such sentiments yesterday. "I don't know that anybody, for example, Judiciary Committee or the Ways and Means Committee, has gotten into the kind of research that would be necessary for any kind of serious talk on that front." But he accused Rubin of being "real tricky" in his use of the federal retirement funds.


House Extends Funding 7 Weeks; Clinton Backs Plan to Avoid Shutdown
Washington Post, 1/26/96

The House yesterday approved a measure blessed by the White House to keep the government running through March 15, marking a sharp de-escalation in tensions between Republican leaders and President Clinton that provoked two previous partial shutdowns.

The short-term spending legislation, which will be considered by the Senate today, would substantially squeeze spending and could open the door for agencies for the first time to order unpaid layoffs of federal workers. The measure also terminates 10 minor programs, but it would provide $2 million to repair the flood-damaged C&O Canal.

In one of a number of signs of rapprochement between Republicans and Democrats, the measure also included $12 billion for foreign aid for the rest of the fiscal year that had been stalled for months by a partisan dispute over abortion. The foreign aid bill was one of six unfinished 1996 appropriations bills. On a roll call vote, the House approved the measure, 371 to 42.

With their quest for a seven-year balanced budget deal a shambles and polls showing the public highly critical of their role in the government stalemate, GOP leaders pressed to keep the government operating while also seeking administration support for a "down payment" on deficit reduction and tax relief. White House and Republican aides will meet today to discuss a GOP proposal to approve as much as $100 billion of deficit reduction and a scaled-back family tax credit and other provisions in lieu of a major balanced budget deal.

. . .

While working to keep the government going, Republicans and Democrats yesterday also pondered a proposal by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) for using new debt ceiling legislation as the vehicle for a compromise package of spending and tax cuts.

White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta said that the president was interested but that the administration doesn't want to "get bogged down in lengthy negotiations" or use the debt ceiling bill as "a legislative Christmas tree."


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “Memory Lane: Footnotes From Yesterday's Article”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    This is an excellent idea and a very interesting read. Nobody does this better than you!

    And, if you can't goad the media into doing its job, then they are truly a lost cause.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Liz -

    Thanks for the kind words. I keep trying...


  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    Good for you. But those seem kind of long to be protected by Fair Use doctrine.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    I am with Krauthammer...

    After that gross fear-mongering by Obama (and subsequent abysmal silence from those on the Left), I think the GOP should call Obama's "bluff".

    I know the American people will, come Nov 2012, let Obama know what THEY think of his blatant extortion..

    Seriously, how can such acts be defended??? If it had been a GOP President, ya'all would be screaming to the heavens...


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    dsws -

    If you think the excerpts are long, you should see the original articles. The longest excerpts come from the longer articles, figured as a percentage of total text.

    Until the lawyers from the papers contact me, that's my story and I'm sticking to it....


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