A triumphant House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., declared Friday night that House passage of the heart of the Republicans’ “Contract With America” was merely the first step toward a total transformation in the way the government operates, thinks and taxes its citizens.
In an extraordinary nationally televised address with all the trappings of a presidential speech, Gingrich said that in the next phase Congress will produce a balanced budget, a dramatic revamping of most major federal programs and possibly the scrapping of the federal income tax system in favor of a “flat” tax favored by conservative economists.
“All of us together - Republicans and Democrats alike - must totally remake the federal government, to change the very way it thinks, the way it does business, the way it treats its citizens,” he said.
Gingrich’s speech culminated a day of celebration for House Republicans, who left for Easter recess after completing work on every provision of the contract in a week’s less time than the 100 days they had promised it would take.
Gingrich’s address, spiced with homey anecdotes, props and frequent references to average Americans - such as the first-grader from Georgia who wrote a letter of encouragement to “Mr. Newt” - recalled the speeches of Ronald Reagan. Michael K. Deaver, who helped shaped Reagan’s presidential image, assisted in producing the Gingrich speech, advising him on the use of patriotic backdrops and flattering camera angles at his office in the Capitol.
Anticipating Democratic charges that he and his GOP allies inevitably must slash and burn social programs to eliminate the deficit and cut taxes, Gingrich on Friday night sketched out a gauzy future of seemingly pain-free retrenchment: Social Security, at least for the time being, would remain “off the table.” Medicare, which he said is vital to his own mother and father, will “continue to provide the care our seniors need.” And Republicans would never “take food out of the mouths of schoolchildren” by cutting the school lunch program.
But Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), offering a Democratic response to Gingrich’s speech, charged that Republicans “have shown their true loyalties: to the forces of privilege and power who need no help, and deserve no special favors.”
Gingrich acknowledged that his party’s success in approving the bulk of the contract was the “preliminary skirmish to the battle yet to come.”
“Yes, we have problems, and of course it’s going to be difficult to enact these things,” Gingrich said. “That’s the American way. And of course, we’re going to have to work hard, and of course we’re going to have to negotiate with the president….”