Monday, January 16, 2006

Stephen Moore explains what is it stake in the House leadership race and how it resembles the leadership battles that led up to the 1994 elections that swept the GOP into power.
Win or lose, Mr. Shadegg's candidacy will be a measuring rod of just how much trouble congressional Republicans really think they're in. It will also serve as a leading indicator of whether House conservatives will devote the next nine months of this term to slamming the brakes on a domestic legislative policy that has careened off course. The era when Republicans promised to make government smaller and smarter by abolishing hundreds of obsolete federal agencies seems a distant memory now in this era of Bridges to Nowhere. In the last five years, Republicans have enacted the largest increase in entitlement spending in three decades, doubled the education budget, nearly tripled the number of earmarked spending projects, and turned a blind eye toward the corrosive culture of corruption on Capitol Hill that seems so eerily reminiscent of the final days of Democratic rule in the House.
One wonders whether the young-gun conservatives in the House fully appreciate what's at stake here. Few current House members even remember that the first shots in the Republican Revolution of 1994 were fired in 1989, when upstart Newt Gingrich rallied the conservative troops in the House and shockingly defeated by one vote the Bob Michel machine candidate for minority whip (the No. 2 leadership perch). The conservatives for the first time in a generation had a foothold of power. Shortly thereafter, the power structure shifted again when free-marketer Dick Armey of Texas, a longtime backbencher in the House, evicted another old bull Republican from the leadership team, Jerry Lewis of California. (It's a sign of the party's lost bearings that Mr. Lewis, the epitome of so much of what's wrong with the congressional Republicans, has been made Appropriations Committee chairman and has been even talked about as belonging back in the leadership.)

The Armey-Gingrich political coups were instigated by a gang of rebellious House conservatives and triggered a domino effect of momentous political changes. For years, Republican House leaders had suffered from Stockholm syndrome, becoming subservient to their captors, the Democratic majority. That gave way to Messrs. Gingrich and Armey devising a D-Day-type battle plan for the hostile takeover of the House in the '94 midterms. Its Republicans ran on Reaganite economics and a reform agenda of bringing squeaky clean ethics to Capitol Hill in the wake of House Democratic banking and post office scandals. Delusional Democrats thought they could merely cover the reek of scandals with disinfectants and then move on--a catastrophic blunder that Republicans may now be in danger of repeating.
You might not have thought that it mattered all that much to you who was the Majority Leader in the House, but if the GOP can take a U-Turn away from employing pork and earmarks to pass bills, it will be a big move away from all that has annoyed so many conservatives about the GOP in Congress.