News: Far Right May Retreat in 106th

ALAN FRAM, The Associated Press
House GOP Vow To Work Together

November 11, 1998 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Would-be House GOP leaders are stressing a common theme: Republicans must learn to work together next year in a chamber where they will dominate by just a six-vote majority.

"Maybe I'm optimistic, but it may be easier" than it was this year, said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. "There will be more evidence that we do have to work together now."

Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who seems certain to be the next speaker of the House, and other rivals for top leadership jobs all have been calling for Republicans to avoid intraparty splits in the 106th Congress, which convenes in January.

But the real question is with just a six-vote majority, can they remain united on tough issues like tax and spending cuts, boosting defense spending and strengthening Social Security. And what if social conservative groups begin pressing GOP leaders for votes on abortion and other social issues that often split Republicans?

"There's plenty of incentive for them to unite, but I'm skeptical they can find the right vehicles," said Ronald Peters, director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma. "When they become specific, there are still disagreements."

"It's going to be interesting," Livingston said of the GOP's six-vote margin. "We're going to succeed."

Though Livingston seems assured of the speaker's job, Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, is still fending off challenges from Reps. Steve Largent, R-Okla., and Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., for the No. 2 post of majority leader. Fights are also under way for the No. 4 leadership job, now held by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and for lesser posts.

When Livingston ascends to the speakership, his current post as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee will go to Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who is next in line by seniority, said GOP sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Last week's midterm congressional elections left the GOP with a 223-211 majority, plus one independent who usually votes with Democrats.

That will give any group of six or more Republicans, be they moderates or conservatives, enormous power to make threats or even block legislation they don't like.

Some conservatives already are acknowledging that to help keep Republicans together they will have to be less aggressive than they were this year, when they forced repeated votes on abortion, labor and other divisive issues.

"Will we put as many pro-life votes on the floor? No. We won't cause our moderates that kind of grief," said conservative Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Others say everything will be all right as long as votes are held on issues important to conservatives, win or lose.

"It's more important that we demonstrate an effort and let people go on the record," said conservative Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla.

And outside conservative groups, though recognizing the delicate balance Republicans will need, are still going to press for votes on issues like tax cuts and family planning restrictions.

"We're not necessarily going to go out and fight every battle, but the ones that are most important to us we'll continue fighting," said Marty Dannenfelser, media and government relations director for the conservative Family Research Council. "We don't want to signal that we're dropping issues."

This year, the GOP had a 10-vote majority in the House and leaders confronted frequent problems. They couldn't agree on spending cuts to pay for tax reductions, and failed to move some fiscal 1999 spending bills until the very end because of fights over contraceptives and other social issues.

Republicans also face a continuing problem in the Senate, where the 55-45 GOP majority in 1999 will be the same as it was this year. Because of Republican defections – and because Democrats can stop anything with filibusters that take 60 votes to halt – the Senate never approved a significant tax cut, a prime component of the GOP agenda.

Another complication looms. By late next year, presidential politics and the 2000 congressional elections will begin creating political incentives for the two parties to distinguish themselves from each other.

"Most moderates and conservatives are learning governing, they're learning the limits of their slim majority," said Bill Connelly, a political scientist at Washington and Lee University. "And if it hasn't sunk in yet, it will early in the 106th Congress."