Clinton: Master of the House

by Patrick J. Buchanan – July 17, 1998

At noon, July 15, effective Republican resistance to the global agenda of Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Strobe Talbott and Robert Rubin came to an end. The House leadership capitulated.

From Most Favored Nation trading privileges for Communist China to $18 billion in fresh funds for the global bailout agency, the International Monetary Fund, Clinton’s agenda seems assured. If the president does not get “fast track” — Congress’ surrender of all rights to amend his trade treaties — it will be only because Bill tells Newt not to push it.

Only weeks ago, when Speaker Gingrich broke with his party to sign onto the Clinton agenda, House Majority Leader Richard Armey and Whip Tom DeLay broke ranks. “This was Newt’s decision,” said DeLay. “Armey and I disagreed.” According to Roll Call magazine, the majority leader and whip were suiting up to defy the speaker and lead the back-bench conservative troops into glorious battle.

The chances for a GOP victory, even with Newt on Clinton’s team, were good. “IMF Has Rough Road in House — Conservatives Not Sold on Speaker’s Plan for Funding” ran Roll Call’s headline. A battle royal was shaping up that would define both parties. The price of a ringside ticket was rising fast.

But on July 15, Dick Armey carried a white flag over to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The leader who had been expected to head the conservatives, in an Alamo-style finish if necessary, called it off.

The headline in The New York Times said it all: “GOP, In Switch, Backs More Funds to Shore Up IMF — Top Opponent Concedes … Armey Recognizes Need.” The Times said Armey had “virtually conceded the fight.”

“In the end,” said Armey, “I suppose they (the IMF) will get about as much money as they’re looking for.”

The depth of the capitulation may be seen in the exultation of the victors. Willard Workman, a vice president at the Chamber, said of Armey’s capitulation, “We’re pleased to see he’s coming to grips with reality.” But what of Armey’s plea that at least there should be an opening of the books of an IMF that is shoveling out U.S. tax dollars by the scores of billions?

Armey’s idea is “stupid,” said Workman graciously.

After Armey conceded the battle was lost before it was fought, was the White House magnanimous in victory?

Not at all. Press Secretary Mike McCurry decided to give the Republicans an extra boot in the rump, even as they were trying to kowtow: “It is time for this Congress to get serious and stop fooling around. This is just back to close-the-government time, you know, and they play these games, and there is serious work to do.”

As the Republicans have a majority in the House, why did not the leadership at least put up a fight? The answer is not a pretty one.

Republicans either do not believe in the convictions that they profess, or they lack the courage of those convictions. Ever since their rout at the hands of Clinton in the budget battle of 1995, this House leadership has ducked every showdown Clinton has called.

What are the Republicans afraid of? Fundamentally, there are three deep-seated fears.

The first is that fear in the heart when Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan arrive on the Hill to tell Republicans that if they do not pony up every dime the IMF demands, the global financial system will collapse, Republicans will be blamed, and they will all share the fate of Herbert Hoover Republicans.

The second is the fear of being defunded by the deep pockets of the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose members provide the huge infusions of soft money that keep all those Republicans employed in party offices and D.C. think tanks and finance all those Republican campaigns.

The third is fear of the lobbyists for agribusiness and the giant transnational corporations who have been telling Republicans that if U.S. dollars don’t continue pouring out to Asia, they will lose sales and profits, their stocks will fall, and the GOP will get a slammed door in its face the next time it comes around to solicit.

In short, the House leadership today is torn between its base in the heartland, which deplores such One World institutions as the IMF, and a Fortune 500 financial base, which guards the IMF as its insurance policy, its bailout window of last resort, and its guarantor that today’s halcyon days of the Global Economy will never end.

Take away the IMF, and you take away the security blanket of global capitalism. And these fellows will not give up their welfare without a fight, a fight this House leadership does not want.