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The Challenge of Legislation

The Challenge of Legislation: Bipartisanship in a Partisan World

John L. Hilley
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 276
  • Book Info
    The Challenge of Legislation
    Book Description:

    In 1995, the budget standoff between Democrats and Republicans forced the federal government to shut down. Two years later, the parties joined forces to pass the first balanced budget in a generation. In The Challenge of Legislation, John Hilley, the Clinton administration's chief liaison to the Republican-controlled Congress, tells the inside story of this dramatic turnaround. Hilley weaves together a detailed narrative and vivid portraits of the key players -including then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, and President Bill Clinton -in this comprehensive account of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Equally at home with the complexities of the legislative process and the realities of political combat, he offers unique insight into the highly charged relationship between party leaders and their rank-and-file, the interplay between elected officials and their professional staff, the delicate art of partisan negotiations, and the role of uncertainty and surprise. The result is a compelling look at how public policy is made, rich in enduring lessons for both policymakers and students of legislative politics. Ten years ago, bipartisanship triumphed against daunting odds. The Challenge of Legislation shows how it happened and what it will take for bipartisanship to succeed again.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-3656-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xii)

    Unlike most books about Washington, this book deals in good news. It tells the true story of how responsible leaders in both parties overcame their differences to enact the most significant bipartisan achievement of the last two decades. This bright shining moment occurred in 1997, when Republicans and Democrats reached across the aisle to balance the federal budget while enacting major tax policies and initiatives in education, health, welfare, the environment, and many other areas. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 not only brought an end to a period of massive federal budget deficits, but it also provided health insurance...

  5. CHAPTER ONE We’re Fixing a Hole
    (pp. 1-22)

    In November 1996 the American people voted to retain Democrat Bill Clinton as president and to keep Republicans as the majority party in Congress. These partisans were no strangers to each other. In 1995 they had fought an epic battle of the budget, waging a political war that shut the federal government not once, but twice. Partisanship reigned supreme as the two sides held the federal government and the American people hostage. When the dust finally settled, the only sure results were negative: bitterness, distrust, and, despite all the sound and fury, an enormous deficit hole that still needed fixing....

  6. CHAPTER TWO Launch
    (pp. 23-40)

    February 6, 1997—the official launch of the fiscal 1998 budget. The president did the formal unveiling in the morning; OMB and the economics team followed with detailed briefings.

    The president’s budget was alive on arrival for the first time in many years. The Republicans were taking some shots, but the tone was very different from the normal partisan assaults. The Republicans knew they could not be negotiating with the White House in one room and kicking the hell out of the Democrats in another. Some Democrats misread the signals, misattributing the muted Republican response to the clever political construction...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Circle ’Round the Consumer Price Index
    (pp. 41-56)

    Erskine Bowles and I felt confident we were pushing in the right direction—those daily steps. We felt even more confident after the Speaker called Erskine on Saturday to say that our meeting with the leaders on Thursday had been “providential.” Before that meeting, Gingrich had believed the budget could not be balanced before 2005; now he thought 2002 was in reach. He was ready to roll up his sleeves and work.

    Before that happened, however, the White House team was working on solving the problem of the handoff—that all-important moment when the two sides would engage in the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Handoff
    (pp. 57-70)

    With the CPI commission no longer an option, all we in the White House could do was ramp up our meetings with the four lead congressional budgeteers as quickly as possible. We were far along with Domenici, with Spratt close behind. But we would need to intensify our efforts with Kasich and Lautenberg. We had been talking strategy and big picture with them but needed to get deeper into the budget muck. We would also reach out to House Democrats beyond Gephardt’s leadership circle. If he mediated all of our interactions with the Democrats in his chamber, it would be...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Staking Out Territory
    (pp. 71-84)

    Under the leadership of Erskine Bowles, and Leon Panetta before him, the White House staff worked issues to death. Every policy and tactic was thoroughly examined, discussed, and analyzed again. The same was true on the budget—even more so. Our team spent hour after hour after hour in the chief of staff’s office doing the policy and political drills from all angles. Every negotiating position was put together, taken apart, and put back together again to make sure the numbers, policies, and politics lined up. Formal and off-line discussions with congressional Republicans and Democrats were evaluated and integrated daily....

  10. CHAPTER SIX Offer and Counteroffer
    (pp. 85-97)

    Hours of consultation and positioning—and years of budget battles—had made evident to our group of bipartisan budgeteers the fault lines between the parties. Now we had to close the gap, inventing a middle that was acceptable to both sides and to the American people. Our challenge was to thread the political and policy needles with hundreds of moving parts and powerful players swirling around.

    Pete Domenici was calling; he was upset. He had just learned that Trent Lott was meeting with the president the next day, and he was worried about what they might do. The meeting was...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN An Agreement
    (pp. 98-115)

    The clock was ticking. Our bipartisan negotiators needed to quickly reach an agreement on the big budget pieces that would be memorialized in a congressional budget resolution. Having worked with the Republican negotiators and our Democratic allies for months, we had come to understand the wins each needed and the losses that could not be absorbed. We had probed and debated hundreds of policies in an effort to find the center both sides could support. Now we needed to seize the moment, reach across the aisle, and agree to that middle.

    The president and the vice president gathered the budget...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT What Was That We Agreed To?
    (pp. 116-128)

    We had pushed ourselves past the point of exhaustion. A weekend would not be enough time to recuperate. All those involved in the negotiations would need a few days to gather their strength. We had come an enormous distance in slightly more than three months—from quiet forays through partisan political barriers to the handoff and then to an agreement that had survived death from good news. Most important, our contingent had stood together when it counted; we were learning to act like partners.

    The first official act would be to memorialize the agreement in a congressional budget resolution. In...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Center Must Hold
    (pp. 129-136)

    With passage of the budget resolution by both budget committees, the next challenge would be to hold the budget agreement together on the floors of the House and the Senate. In both Houses of Congress, however, powerful interests and players were intent on opening up, recutting, or defeating the bipartisan agreement.

    The first major test of the agreement would come on Tuesday, May 20, when the full House took up the budget resolution. But we were already running into trouble. In the House, the Transportation Committee under its powerful chairman Bud Shuster was intent on driving a truck through the...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Challenge of Reconciliation
    (pp. 137-156)

    With the outlines of the bipartisan agreement memorialized in a congressional budget resolution, Congress and the Clinton administration now faced two parallel challenges. The first was shepherding the passage of thirteen different appropriations bills in each house. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees would take the pot of money made available for discretionary spending and divide it up among their subcommittees. Each subcommittee would then be responsible for writing a bill that allocated its share of the total among the programs under its jurisdiction.

    The second task was the challenge of reconciliation, which dealt with mandatory spending and taxes. As...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN House on Fire
    (pp. 157-167)

    The politics were much more polarized in the House than in the Senate where leaders Lott and Daschle were actively backing the agreement. And the all-important Senate Finance Committee was working in a bipartisan manner—even if ignoring many of the policy preferences of the president. In the House, the Republican committee chairs had largely written the reconciliation bill without the involvement or support of Democrats. Those bills deviated from the bipartisan agreement in numerous ways, including the insertion of many poison pills. The White House found itself in an extraordinarily difficult position in the House: trying to fix those...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE Tax Tribulations
    (pp. 168-187)

    Once the House had passed its version of the spending reconciliation bill, we turned our attention back to the tax bill, which the full Senate was expected to vote on by the end of the week. In what was becoming a surreal experience, the Senate Finance Committee Democrats had bonded fully with their Republican colleagues on the committee, generalizing the pledge to stick together on the tobacco tax amendment into an oath of fealty on the entire committee-reported bill. They had temporarily, we hoped, shifted their allegiance away from the views of the Democratic president, the Democratic caucus, and the...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Into the Hands of the Leaders
    (pp. 188-201)

    Having succeeded in kicking the tax bill upstairs to the leadership level, the two sides needed to finalize the structure of the negotiations—who would be in the room and who would not. Gingrich, Armey, Lott, Erskine, and I were definitely in. Beyond that, it got problematic. Lott realized that Roth’s presence would be a problem. He was a single-issue man. Everyone understood we would have to give him something on the IRAs, but it would be easier to figure out that something and the rest of the tax bill without him in the room.

    As for Archer, his bill...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Taxes and Death
    (pp. 202-214)

    The major pieces of the budget agreement were falling into place—with one glaring exception. Unknown to the Republican negotiators, the White House was about to reopen the agreement on the child credit and the EITC. No other issue was as controversial or had as much potential to blow up the bipartisan negotiations.

    The next morning the president gathered the budget group in the Oval Office. He repeated what he had told me hours before; we should stretch the envelope on the child tax credit and put forward our superstacking hybrid proposal. The president said that the cop with four...

  19. CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Triumph of Responsibility
    (pp. 215-225)

    The president was on the West Coast headed to Las Vegas to meet with the nation’s governors. Erskine had updated him by phone on our near-death experience and the solution. The president wanted to make sure his administration got credit for the agreement. First and foremost, we were on the verge of balancing the budget and finally filling that trillion dollar hole that had been created so many years ago. But the agreement also looked to the future, investing in education, health care, and the environment. We would mobilize the many facets of the White House media machine to get...

  20. POSTSCRIPT: The Limits and Potential of Bipartisanship
    (pp. 226-234)

    I have told the story of how responsible leaders rose to the challenge of legislation, reaching across party lines to balance the federal budget while enacting significant policies in the national interest. In this postscript I want to address four questions. Why did bipartisanship succeed in 1997? Why isn’t bipartisanship more common? What is the potential for bipartisanship? What are the lessons of 1997 for the future?

    Bipartisanship succeeded in 1997 because the American people were squarely behind the goal of a balanced budget. Following the fiscal implosion of 1981, budgetary responsibility became a driving domestic political force. In the...

  21. APPENDIX A Primer on the Budget Process
    (pp. 235-239)
  22. APPENDIX B Key Budget Terms
    (pp. 240-248)
  23. APPENDIX C Chronology of Important Dates
    (pp. 249-250)
  24. APPENDIX D: List of Key Participants
    (pp. 251-254)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 255-268)
  26. Index
    (pp. 269-276)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)