George W. Bush now has four more years to wreak havoc, I mean govern the nation and combined with the Republican gains in the House and Senate there have been predictions of sweeping reforms of government programs - everything from overhauling the tax code to make it simpler and more regressive to privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
When Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992 the Democrats had a 55-45 majority control of the Senate - identical to what the Republcans have today. The Democrats also had a 258 to 176 majority in the U.S. House - an 83 seat advantage compared to the (231-201) 30-seat Republican advantage today.
So did Republicans meekly concede that the election had given Clinton a broad mandate to put forth his agenda? Or did they fight Clinton every step of the way?
You might recall that President Clinton had some grandiose ideas about reforming our health care system that fell flat despite his party’s control of both the House and Senate. That’s because they didn’t have total control then any more than Republicans have total control now. Republicans ramped up their use of filibusters when Clinton took office and managed to block a large number of his initiatives. It was the beginning of the gridlock era.
According to a 1995 survey published in the Brookings Review, there was an average of one filibuster per Congress in the 1950s, eleven per Congress in the 1970s, and nineteen per Congress in the 1980s. The 1991-92 Congress, the last one counted in the survey, saw a total of thirty-five filibusters.
Here is a graph that illustrates how much filibuster usage increased at the start of Clinton’s first term. By 1994, TIME Magazine was reporting that the country was “living through a filibuster epidemic.”
Well, you can expect Democrats to return the favor. So don’t expect to see any radical conservative agendas being fulfilled by this administration. They don’t have the numbers or the support to do the things they are talking about. Fortunately for them, our expectations on what governments can accomplish have been greatly diminished since Republicans have assumed power.