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Contract with America

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Contract with America

The Contract with America was a document released by the United States Republican Party during the 1994 Congressional election campaign. Written by Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey, and in part using text from former President Ronald Reagan's 1985 State of the Union Address, the Contract detailed the actions the Republicans promised to take if they became the majority party in the United States House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Many of the Contract's policy ideas originated at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.[1][2]

The Contract with America was introduced six weeks before the 1994 Congressional election, the first mid-term election of President Bill Clinton's Administration, and was signed by all but two of the Republican members of the House and all of the Party's non-incumbent Republican Congressional candidates.

Proponents say the Contract was revolutionary in its commitment to offering specific legislation for a vote, describing in detail the precise plan of the Congressional Representatives, and broadly nationalizing the Congressional election. Furthermore, its provisions represented the view of many conservative Republicans on the issues of shrinking the size of government, promoting lower taxes and greater entrepreneurial activity, and both tort reform and welfare reform. Critics of the Contract describe it as a political ploy and election tool designed to have broad appeal while masking the Republicans' real agenda and failing to provide real legislation or governance.

The 1994 elections resulted in Republicans winning 54 House and 9 U.S. Senate seats. When the Republicans gained this majority of seats in the 104th Congress, the Contract was seen as a triumph by party leaders such as Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and the American conservative movement in general.

The fate of the proposals in the Contract were mixed with some becoming law while some failed to pass the House or the Senate or were vetoed by President Clinton.

Content of the Contract

The Contract's actual text included a list of eight reforms the Republicans promised to enact, and ten bills they promised to bring to floor debate and votes, if they were made the majority following the election. During the crafting of the Contract, proposals were limited to "60% issues", i.e. legislation that polling showed garnered 60% support of the American people, intending for the Contract to avoid promises on controversial and divisive matters like abortion and school prayer.[1][3] Reagan biographer Lou Cannon would characterize the Contract as having taken more than half of its text from Ronald Reagan's 1985 State of the Union Address.[4]

Government and Operational Reforms

On the first day of their majority in the House, the Republicans promised to bring up for vote, eight major reforms:

  1. require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress;
  2. select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
  3. cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
  4. limit the terms of all committee chairs;
  5. ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
  6. require committee meetings to be open to the public;
  7. require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
  8. guarantee an honest accounting of the Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

Major Policy Changes

During the first one hundred days of the 104th Congress, the Republicans pledged "to bring to the floor the following [ten] bills, each to be given a full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote, and each to be immediately available for public inspection." The text of the proposed bills was included in the Contract, which was released prior to the election. These bills were not governmental operational reforms, as the previous promises were; rather, they represented significant changes to policy. They mainly included a balanced budget requirement, tax cuts for small businesses, families and seniors, term limits for legislators, social security reform, tort reform, and welfare reform.

Implementation of the Contract

The Contract had promised to bring to floor debate and votes 10 bills that would implement major reform of the federal government. When the 104th Congress assembled in January 1995, the Republican majority sought to implement the Contract.

In some cases (e.g. The National Security Restoration Act and The Personal Responsibility Act), the proposed bills were accomplished by a single act analogous to that which had been proposed in the Contract; in other cases (e.g. The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act), a proposed bill's provisions were split up across multiple acts. Most of the bills died in the Senate, except as noted below.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act

An amendment to the Constitution that would require a balanced budget unless sanctioned by a three-fifths vote in both houses of Congress (H.J.Res.1, passed by the US House Roll Call: 300-132, 1/26/95, but rejected by the US Senate: Roll Call 65-35 (interestingly enough the amendment was defeated by a single vote, which happened to be from a Republican - Oregon Republican Senator Mark Hatfield; Dole cast a procedural vote against the amendment to bring it up again in the future), 3/2/95, two-thirds required),[5] and legislation (not an amendment) provide the president with a line-item veto (H.R.2, passed by the US House Roll Call: 294-134, 2/6/95; conferenced with S. 4 and enacted with substantial changes 4/9/96 [1]). The statute was ruled unconstitutional in Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417, 118 S.Ct. 2091, 141 L.Ed.2d 393 (1998).

The Taking Back Our Streets Act

An anti-crime package including stronger truth in sentencing, "good faith" exclusionary rule exemptions (H.R.666 Exclusionary Rule Reform Act, passed US House Roll Call 289-142 2/8/95), death penalty provisions (H.R.729 Effective Death Penalty Act, passed US House Roll Call 297-132 2/8/95; similar provisions enacted under S. 735 [2]:], 4/24/96), funding prison construction (H.R.667 Violent Criminal Incarceration Act, passed US House Roll Call 265-156 2/10/95, rc#117) and additional law enforcement (H.R.728 Local Government Law Enforcement Block Grants Act, passed US House Roll Call 238-192 2/14/95).

The Personal Responsibility Act

An act to discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by reforming and cutting cash welfare and related programs. This would be achieved by prohibiting welfare to mothers under 18 years of age, denying increased Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for additional children while on welfare, and enacting a two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility. H.R.4, the Family Self-Sufficiency Act, included provisions giving food vouchers to unwed mothers under 18 in lieu of cash AFDC benefits, denying cash AFDC benefits for additional children to people on AFDC, requiring recipients to participate in work programs after 2 years on AFDC, complete termination of AFDC payments after five years, and suspending driver and professional licenses of people who fail to pay child support. H.R.4, passed by the US House 234-199, 3/23/95, and passed by the US Senate 87-12, 9/19/95. The Act was vetoed by President Clinton, but the alternative Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which offered many of the same policies was enacted 22 August 1996.

The American Dream Restoration Act

An act to create a $500-per-child tax credit, add a tax credit for couples who pay more taxes in aggregate if they are married than if they were single (but keep in place the fiction of Earned Income Splitting), and creation of American Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle-class tax relief. H.R.1215, passed 246-188, 4/5/95.

The National Security Restoration Act

An act to prevent U.S. troops from serving under United Nations command unless the president determines it is necessary for the purposes of national security, to cut U.S. payments for UN peacekeeping operations, and to help establish guidelines for the voluntary integration of former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO. H.R.7, passed 241-181, 2/16/95.

The Common Sense Legal Reform Act

An act to institute "Loser pays" laws (H.R.988, passed 232-193, 3/7/95), limits on punitive damages and weakening of product-liability laws to prevent what the bill considered frivolous litigation (H.R.956, passed 265-161, 3/10/95; passed Senate 61-37, 5/11/95, vetoed by President Clinton [3]]). Another tort reform bill, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act was enacted in 1995 when Congress overrode a veto by Clinton.

The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act

A package of measures to act as small-business incentives: capital-gains cuts and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages. Although this was listed as a single bill in the Contract, its provisions ultimately made it to the House Floor as four bills:

  • H.R.5, requiring federal funding for state spending mandated by Congressional action and estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost more than $50m per year (for the years of 1996-2002[6]), was passed 360-74, 2/1/95. This bill was conferenced with S. 1 and enacted, 3/22/95 [4].
  • H.R.450 required a moratorium on the implementation of federal regulations until June 30, 1995, and was passed 276-146, 2/24/95. Companion Senate bill S. 219 passed by voice vote, 5/17/95, but the two bills never emerged from conference [5].
  • H.R.925 required federal compensation to be paid to property owners when federal government actions reduced the value of the property by 20% or more, and was passed 277-148, 3/3/95.
  • H.R.926, passed 415-14 on 3/1/95, required federal agencies to provide a cost-benefit analysis on any regulation costing $50m or more annually, to be signed off on by the Office of Management and Budget, and permitted small businesses to sue that agency if they believed the aforementioned analysis was performed inadequately or incorrectly.

The Citizen Legislature Act

An amendment to the Constitution that would have imposed 12-year term limits on members of the US Congress (i.e. six terms for Representatives, two terms for Senators). H.J.Res.73 [6] rejected by the U.S. House 227-204 (a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority, not a simple majority), 3/29/95; RC #277.

Other sections of the Contract

Other sections of the Contract include a proposed Family Reinforcement Act (tax incentives for adoption, strengthening the powers of parents in their children's education, stronger child pornography laws, and elderly dependent care tax credit) and the Senior Citizens Fairness Act (raise the Social Security earnings limit, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance).

Non-implementation of the Contract

A November 13, 2000, article by Edward H. Crane, president of the libertarian Cato Institute, stated, "...the combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13%."[7]

Effects of the Contract

Some observers cite the Contract with America as having helped secure a decisive victory for the Republicans in the 1994 elections; others dispute this role, noting its late introduction into the campaign. Whatever the role of the Contract, Republicans were elected to a majority of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1953, and some parts of the Contract were enacted. Most elements did not pass in Congress, while others were vetoed by, or substantially altered in negotiations with President Bill Clinton, who would sarcastically refer to it as the "Contract on America."[8][9]

As a blueprint for the policy of the new Congressional majority, Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue in The Right Nation that the Contract placed the Congress firmly back in the driver's seat of domestic government policy for most of the 104th Congress, and placed the Clinton White House firmly on the defensive.[3]

David E. Bernstein has argued that the Contract "show[ed]... that [Congress took] federalism and limited national government seriously," and "undoubtedly made [the Supreme Court decision in] United States v. Lopez more viable."[10]

Journalist and senior congressional reporter Major Garrett equated the Contract with a game of miniature golf, "fun, popular, and largely diversionary exercise meant to satisfy middle-class sensibilities", contrasted with the golf of governing America and leadership. Republicans interviewed by Garrett when the Contract was being compiled said it was meant to be a political document of easy goals, not a governing document, with one senior aide explaining, "We don't care if the Senate passes any of the items in the contract. It would be preferable, but it's not necessary. If the freshmen do everything the contract says, they'll be in excellent shape for 1996".[11]

In 2014, business and finance writer John Steele Gordon, writing in The American, an online magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute, said that "(t)he main reason (for the Republican victory in 1994) was surely the Contract with America..." in part because it "nationalized the election, making it one of reform versus business as usual. The people voted for reform." Gordon wrote that the Contract "turned out to be a brilliant political ploy. The contract tuned in to the American electorate’s deep yearning for reform in Washington, a yearning that had expressed itself in the elections of both (U.S. Presidents) Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan."[12] He described the election of 1994 as an "epic slaughter of the majority party in Congress" that "changed American politics for the foreseeable future," and that "(a)fter 60 years of Democratic dominance in American politics, the two parties were on a par." He concludes that "(t)he main reason was surely the Contract with America..."[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b Gayner, Jeffrey (October 12, 1995) "The Contract with America: Implementing New Ideas in the U.S." The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-16.
  2. ^ The Buzz; Orange County Register; September 6, 2010
  3. ^ a b Micklethwait, John & Wooldridge, Adrian (2004).  
  4. ^ Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio; Lou Cannon; Public Affairs, 2001; pg. 279
  5. ^ "Hatfield Remembered for Vote Against Balanced Budget Amendment".  
  6. ^ "Bill Summary & Status 104th Congress (1995 - 1996)". 
  7. ^  .
  8. ^ Wines, Michael (1994-10-25). "The 1994 Campaign: The President; Campaigning On Economy, Clinton Plays The Teacher".  
  9. ^ "Luncheon address by President Bill Clinton". The American Society of Newspaper Editors. 2000-11-28. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  10. ^ Bernstein, David (2010-12-16) Constitutional Doctrine and the Constitutionality of Health Care Reform, The Volokh Conspiracy
  11. ^ Beyond the Contract; Mother Jones; Major Garrett; March/April 1995
  12. ^ a b Gordon, John Steele (May 16, 2014). "Time for a New Contract with America". The American (American Enterprise Institute). Retrieved 19 August 2014. 



  • Text of the Contract, from the U.S. House website
  • "Contract with America - 1994". Historical Documents. National Center for Public Policy Research. 1 May 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  • The Contract with America: Implementing New Ideas in the U.S., from The Heritage Foundation
  • Beyond the Contract, criticism of the Contract from Mother Jones magazine
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