The first session of the 99th Congress was a year of wrenching institutional and political realignment. Facing monstrous structural budget deficits in excess of $200 billion a year. Congress struggled to adjust its distributive urges to the unpleasant realities of a redistributive era. Unlike previous budget crises that were caused by economic events beyond Congress's control, the current problem was created by an unwillingness to raise sufficient revenues to pay for the nation's defense and social program commitments. Frustration, gridlock, and partisan warfare eventually ended in surrender to the Executive Branch: a balanced-budget act was adopted that could radically alter Congress's power of the purse.
During the 99th Congress, many Democratic members also continued to realign their policy positions in accordance with contemporary economic and political forces. Democrats in Congress searched for an appealing formula that would ensure political survival and continued control of the House. But the strain of reconciling their traditional public philosophy with conservative trends left Democrats demoralized and in disarray.