Just hours after House Speaker Newt Gingrich heralded the balanced budget agreement as a major legislative victory Friday, former Vice President Dan Quayle stood before the same crowd to ridicule it and declare that the taxpayers “once again got the shaft.”
“I know when you have divided government, from time to time, you have to compromise. But you don’t make compromise your top priority,” Quayle said to a rousing ovation at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference.
The sharp contrast between Gingrich and Quayle illustrated a rift within the GOP between those who advocate incremental change with those who believe the party has lost its bearings.
Aligning himself squarely with the latter, Quayle complained that the GOP “Contract with America” had turned into the “Contract with Clinton.”
In contrast, Gingrich lauded the contract as an unprecedented document that created the historic 1994 Republican sweep of Congress and called for creation of a new contract in the 2000 campaign that would bind the presidential nominee with House and Senate candidates.
The speaker also described the balanced budget agreement in historic terms and predicted that Republicans would gain more seats in 1998 by continuing to “work hard and do the right thing.”
But in a nod to divisions among Republicans over compromises made during the budget negotiations, Gingrich lashed out at the White House and accused it of trying to “destroy” welfare reform by refusing to loosen workplace rules.
At the center of the debate is the requirement that businesses pay former welfare recipients the minimum wage. During the recent balanced budget negotiations, Republicans and business groups sought to exempt welfare recipients from the nation’s workplace laws so as to allow a lower wage during their training period.
The Clinton administration, however, insisted that those moving from welfare to work be treated like all full-time workers. Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., dropped their opposition to the provision during the waning days of negotiations.
The balanced budget package then breezed through both the House and Senate, passing with wide bipartisan support.
Since then, Republican governors and business leaders have criticized the GOP leadership for not holding firm on the workplace rules and Gingrich Friday vowed to renew the battle by pushing through a “welfare implementation” law this fall.
“The Clinton administration, working with the unions and bureaucrats and the liberals, is trying to undermine and destroy welfare reform and we should make it a major national issue,” Gingrich said.
“When we said welfare reform, we meant it. The president has an obligation to work with the governors of this country to have effective, real welfare reform and not destroy it on behalf of union bosses,” he added.
The speaker’s stop in Indianapolis is part of a two-week tour aimed at improving his public image and measuring his support within the party, both as speaker and possibly as a presidential candidate.
Gingrich’s address kicked off a three-day convention that will also include appearances by a host of other men mentioned as possible Republican presidential candidates. They included Quayle, Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
At the luncheon event featuring Gingrich, party chairmen and delegates from 13 Midwestern states found “I Love Newt” posters on their chairs and a slick biographical handout of their guest speaker.