Budget realities tax Newt's Republicans

The first 100 days of the brave new Republican era on Capitol Hill are almost halfway through. But after an easy opening when it seemed as if the world could be redrawn with the proper use of an electronic voting button, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his men are running into trouble. The reasons are as old as Congress: money and taxes.

In truth, the "Contract with America" was always slightly less than met the eye. In the House, the well-drilled Republican cohorts could win and - with the exception of Wednesday's failure to stop a Democratic amendment preventing faster deployment of a Star Wars anti-missile programme - thus far have won a majority for everything they choose.

Last night, the juggernaut rolled on, defying President Bill Clinton's veto threats and approving by a 241-181 majority, the Contract's National Security Revitalization Act, slashing contributions to the cost of UN peace-keeping efforts and prohibiting American troops from serving under foreign command.

But the net results of six weeks' frenetic activity are modest. Reforms to Congress have been enacted, and a ban on "unfunded mandates", preventing Congress imposing laws on the states without providing the money to pay for them, is almost ready for Mr Clinton's signature. The rest is anyone's guess.

For all Mr Gingrich's celebrity, the House is only part of the legislative battle. To become law, the Contract's provisions must also pass the Senate and then survive any presidential veto, which both chambers must muster a two-thirds super-majority to override. The problem right now is the Senate.

At the best of times, the upper chamber hates being rushed. It is fiercely jealous of its prerogatives and its arcane rules permit a single member, if he is determined enough, to tie up business for weeks. To break a filibuster, 60 votes are required; the Republicans have but 43. The balanced budget amendment is a perfect illustration of what can happen.

The measure, requiring a balanced federal budget by 2002, swept through the House. The betting is narrowly that the Senate too will come up with the two-thirds majority needed for an amendment to the Constitution - but when? For three weeks, the proposal has been picked over by hostile Democrats. Meanwhile, all else waits.

No less important, the middle class tax cuts pursued with such religious zeal by Mr Gingrich and his followers, may no longer be such a sure thing. Republicans, Democrats, and Mr Clinton himself all support them. But Republican focus groups suggest that the public sets far greater store by deficit reduction. Several key Senators, moreover, insist spending cuts must be made before any sort of tax relief.

All is part of a dawning realisation among Republicans that you can pursue tax cuts or a balanced budget, but not both simultaneously. Hence potential problems for other parts of the Contract, notably the proposed cut in capital gains tax, and social security breaks for the elderly - and the refusal of 24 Republicans to stand by Star Wars.

The mini-revolt does not mean the Republicans are going soft on defence. Rather, the rebels were fiscal hardliners, arguing that no more money should be given to a low priority of the Pentagon budget when Congress was trying to reduce government spending. By the same token, some version of welfare reform and handing more responsibility to the states, almost certainly will be passed and signed by the President.

But Mr Clinton promises to veto the National Security Revitalization Act in its present shape. The veto pen also awaits any crime bill which repeals the ban on assault weapons and drops plans for extra police on the streets. Votes for an override are not there. And even as he continues to bark out instant opinions on everything under the sun, the House Speaker himself accepts reality.

No longer does he flourish a laminated copy of the Contract at the slightest opportunity. Its proposals, says Mr Gingrich, "are not written in stone".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?