Bringing Down the House G.O.P. Guerrilla

Newt Gingrich rides a surge of voter anger, but where does he want to go with it?

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In the Senate, Dole is already promising a scaled-down health-care proposal. As for the House, Gingrich has mapped out a schedule for what he will do if his party gains control. "I think you'll see a pretty productive opening 40 days," he says. Most of the bills that Gingrich promises would be quickly moved by the new House are mentioned in the Contract with America, his brainchild. Those include term limits, a balanced-budget amendment -- which came close to passing the last Congress -- and some kind of welfare reform. "Then you'll see us settle down to 60 days of really slugging it out over very hard bills like litigation reform," he goes on. "Then we'll take three weeks off and regroup, and then we'll launch a second wave of reforms."

Democrats say the Contract was the first major misstep the Republicans have made in this year's campaign. Even many Republicans have been shying away from it. For one thing, by promising tax cuts without explaining how they fit into deficit reduction, they seemed like practitioners of the feel-good foolery that made voters cynical in the first place. "If all you wanted to worry about was how do you maximize public anger and minimize your own risk, no Contract would have been a safer stand," Gingrich admits. "It also would have been worse for America. In the long run, the party that stands for something and is willing to live by what it stands for has an enormous edge over the party that is cynical and negative and has only smear campaigns and attack advertising."

Asked to name which programs he might be willing to cut to help balance the budget, Gingrich flatly refuses. "I don't want to give people like Tom Foley a single thing to distort and expand into an attack." He does tick off a few items, such as putting Medicaid recipients into managed care and implementing tighter procurement practices at the Pentagon, which he insists could produce $125 billion to $150 billion in savings over five years. That would still be far short of the $700 billion or so that analysts say would have to be cut in the next seven years to keep the deficit from exploding. And the measures that Gingrich mentions are not cuts, but reprises of Ronald Reagan's old promise to balance the budget by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse -- a place where no one ever found enough fat to do the job.

Democratic attacks on the Contract might have worked even better without the damaging memo by Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin that was leaked to the press last week. In summarizing options for reducing the deficit, the memo listed many of the same measures, like trimming Social Security benefits, that the Democrats had tried to pin on the Republicans. Though the White House rushed to deny that it would consider Rivlin's more controversial choices, Gingrich saw his opening. "We printed our word so every American could see it," he says. "The Clinton Administration kept their word secret until it was leaked."

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