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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

3 - Creation


Republican candidates for the U.S. House crowded the steps of the U.S. Capitol on September 27, 1994. Three-hundred-sixty-seven incumbent and potential House members had gathered together to promote the Contract with America. Republicans had carefully crafted a set of policy proposals into a public relations campaign centered on the contract. Republican legislators hoped that the day's event and the broader campaign would help set the agenda of the fall elections and win control of Congress for the GOP (Gimpel 1996). These hopes became reality as the Republican Party won majorities in both congressional chambers for the first time in forty years (Ornstein et al. 2002). During the opening weeks of the 104th Congress, House Republicans built on their fall campaign and passed legislation on nearly every plank in the contract, with overwhelming coalitions that were often bipartisan (CQ Almanac Online Edition 1996). These early successes painted a picture of a strong and dominant Republican majority. But as 1995 progressed, that picture gradually dissolved, as congressional Republicans struggled to turn the provisions of the contract into law, as well as to pass other legislation. The year ended with an embarrassing shutdown of the federal government, which helped set the stage for President Clinton's reelection in 1996 (CQ Almanac Online Edition 1996). Why did the Republicans' legislative momentum in January slow to painful gridlock by December?

A similar puzzle emerged twelve years later during the 110th Congress.