The Rise & Fall of the 104th

“This is a moment for quiet reverence by pols and pundits at the wisdom of the people… Excitement ahead; great days.”–William Safire, 11/10/94

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With much fanfare, more than 300 Republican candidates sign the “Contract With America.”

House Ethics Committee raises questions over Newt Gingrich’s “college course.”

Newt blames the drowning of two boys by Susan Smith, their mother, on a “sick society.” His solution: “Vote Republican.”

FEC reports that 1994 congressional candidates spent a record $589 million, 17% more than in 1992.

After critics charge him with influence-peddling, Newt gives up $4.5 million book advance from publisher Rupert Murdoch. He retains royalties on sales, which turn out to be far less than the advance.

104th Congress convenes. Newt’s mother, Katherine, tells Connie Chung that her son called Hillary Rodham Clinton “a bitch.”

Majority Whip Tom DeLay (1) introduces bills to repeal the Clean Air Act. Rep. Helen Chenoweth (7) helps draft proposals to weaken product liability law, although a poll shows 77% of Americans are against such legislation.

House votes to balance the budget by the year 2002.

House approves $10.5 billion for prison construction; cuts funding for new police officers.

Half of all voters polled say they don’t know enough about the “Contract With America” to have an opinion on it.

After passing a $189 billion tax cut, the House celebrates the Contract’s first 100 days. Newt arranges a symbolic one-ring circus at the Capitol.

The Oklahoma City bombing kills 168. That day, Steve Stockman (10) receives a cryptic fax considered potential evidence and forwards it to the FBIÑand to the NRA.

House scales back 1972 Clean Water Act, reducing wetlands protection and easing pollution runoff restrictions. In a poll taken two months before, 77% of Americans had agreed government regulation keeps the environment much cleaner and safer.

The Christian Coalition announces its “Contract With the American Family,” with strong support from Newt and other GOP leaders.

Clinton and Newt shake hands in New Hampshire, agreeing to set up a bipartisan commission for campaign finance reform. It was never established.

Newt says the FDA, headed by Dr. David Kessler, has “lost its mind” after it announces plans to regulate tobacco.

House holds partisan hearings on the conduct of the FBI and ATF during the 1993 Waco siege.

“Most favored nation” trade status for China upheld in the House with the support of Sue Myrick (4) and her chief sponsor, Amway.

Anticipating new telecommunications law, Disney announces $19 billion deal to buy ABC/Capital Cities. A day later, Westinghouse reveals plan to buy CBS.

Under the supervision of Thomas Bliley (6), House passes major overhaul of telecommunications laws, relaxing ownership rules and deregulating cable rates. Clinton signs the final version of the bill in February 1996.

House allocates $244 billion for defense. Of chief interest to Jane Harman (8) is the more than $3 billion earmarked for Star Wars.

David McIntosh (2) pushes legislation to restrict the YMCA, Girl Scouts, and other nonprofits from testifying before Congress.

Clinton signs stopgap bill to avoid federal shutdown.

Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) resigns after he’s convicted for having sex with a 16-year-old girl. (In the Senate, Bob Packwood, R-Ore., resigns in September amid charges of sexual misconduct.)

O.J. Simpson acquitted

Some 32,500 Boeing workers strike over the company’s use of outside contractors.

With help from Democratic leader Vic Fazio (12), the House approves $63.2 billion for agriculture programs, including sugar, peanut, and tobacco subsidies.

House votes to overhaul Medicare, encouraging seniors to enroll in private health plans. Plan stalls in Senate.

50% of Americans polled trust Republicans to handle the economy. Only 38% prefer Clinton.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin assassinated.

Clinton vetoes two funding bills he calls “extreme proposals,” forcing a six-day shutdown of the federal government. Newt later says he placed a number of troublesome measures in one of the vetoed bills because he felt snubbed by Clinton on the flight back from Rabin’s funeral.

Following reporting by Mother Jones and others, the FEC charges GOPAC, Newt’s fundraising machine, with campaign finance violations. A few weeks later, the House Ethics Committee picks a special counsel to investigate the funding of Newt’s televised “college course.”

Clinton vetoes bill to eliminate deficit by 2002, citing the bill’s sharp curbs in Medicare and Medicaid.

51% of Americans say they believe Clinton’s budget proposals “would be better for the country” than the Republicans’.

Enid Waldholtz (R-Utah) admits campaign finance violations.

Government partially shuts down again. House resolution four days later stalls negotiations.

House and Senate pass welfare bill, eliminating guarantees for poor families. Clinton later vetoes it, saying its reforms will impoverish more than 1 million children.

Time names Gingrich “Man of the Year.”

57% of Americans disapprove of the way freshman Republicans are handling the budget dispute; 58% of Americans say they disapprove of the way Newt Gingrich is handling his job as speaker of the House.

House permits the U.S. Treasury to borrow $29 billion to pay for Social Security checks.

55% of Americans say the federal government should do more to regulate corporate environmental and safety practices.

GOPAC and Newt cleared of an FEC charge. He calls it a “complete vindication,” but is still under investigation by the Ethics Committee, led by Rep. Nancy Johnson.

NRA supporters Barr (3) and Stockman (10) lead House vote to repeal assault weapons ban. Americans overwhelmingly oppose the repeal.

Spring ’96
In preparation for the fall elections, the House begins passing watered-down reform measures including health insurance portability and punitive welfare provisions.

Moonlighting for the tobacco industry, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr gets the largest class-action suit ever filed against cigarette makers dismissed.

Congress raises minimum wage after GOP buckles.

During “Reform Week,” GOP House members try to raise individual political donation limits from $25,000 to $3 million.

Federal Election Commission sues the Christian Coalition for promoting GOP candidates– a violation of its tax-exempt status.


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