Gingrich: If it comes to a shutdown, the GOP should stick to its principles

Newt Gingrich
Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Washington establishment believes that the government shutdown of 1995 was a disastrous mistake that accomplished little and cost House Republicans politically.

The facts are exactly the opposite.

While the shutdown produced some short-term pain, it set the stage for a budget deal in 1996 that led to the largest drop in federal discretionary spending since 1969. The discipline imposed by this budget - overall spending grew at an average of 2.9 percent a year while I was speaker of the House, the slowest rate in decades - allowed us to reach a balanced-budget deal in 1997.

This would all have been impossible had Republicans not stood firm in 1995 and shown the American people (and the White House) that we were serious about reducing spending.

This historic success was not an achievement of the Clinton administration. In the summer of 1995, administration officials publicly expressed doubt that our aggressive timeline for a balanced budget was even possible. Instead, the balanced budget was an outcome driven by House Republicans with limited support from skeptical Senate Republicans.

How did it happen?

In the spring of 1995, House Republicans passed a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. Seventy-two Democrats joined us, giving us the required two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to reach this threshold by one vote.

At a three-hour leadership dinner shortly thereafter, House Republicans, including Texas's Bill Archer of the Ways and Means Committee, Louisiana's Bob Livingston of the Appropriations Committee and, most important, Ohio's John Kasich of the Budget Committee, agreed that we were at a crossroads.

A typical group of politicians would have decided that we had technically kept our word in the Contract With America by holding the vote on the balanced-budget amendment, so it was now okay to revert to politics-as-usual and continue deficit spending.

But we weren't interested in procedural success. We were elected to deliver results. So the House Republican leadership decided that we would voluntarily balance the budget, even without an amendment.

Our constitutional amendment would have set a seven-year deadline to balance the budget. We adopted the same timetable and created a plan that would end deficit spending by 2002. As we developed the reforms and spending cuts, Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.) encouraged us to be smart rather than cheap. We realized that cutting spending in areas that produce long-term savings was destructive to the goal of a sustainable balanced budget. That is why, in the midst of a broad array of reductions and reforms, we doubled the budget for the National Institutes of Health and increased defense and intelligence funding.

The crisis came late in 1995, when the Clinton White House and Senate Democrats set out to test our seriousness. They made a calculated, cynical decision to use the threat of a presidential veto - which would close the government - to insist that we drop our balanced budget.

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